Jan 1 2014 8:00am

Chesley Bonestell: Striving Towards the Stars

Chesley BonestellToday would have marked Chesley Bonestell’s 126th birthday.

Throughout the 1930s Bonestell worked as both an architect and a movie matte painter on high profile projects ranging from New York’s Chrysler building and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and George Pal’s War of the Worlds. But it is astronomical art where Bonestell is best known and revered.

His first astronomical paintings were published in the 1940s—a series of astoundingly realistic images of Saturn as seen from its moons for Life magazine. In the 1950s, Wernher Von Braun asked Bonestell to conceptualize near future space flight, and Viking Books collected a series of his paintings about lunar expeditions called The Conquest of the Moon. These images helped inspire a nation to strive toward the stars.

Vincent di Fate, in his encyclopedia of science fiction artists, Infinite Worlds, says:

“Chesley Bonestell spoke to us with such commanding authority that it doesn’t occur to us to question what our eyes behold....No one before or since has quite created works so evocative of the vast enigmatic beauty of outer space.”

Bonestell has been honored with many awards, including induction into the Illustrators Hall of Fame and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame; both an asteroid and a crater on Mars bear his name, and the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists annual awards are affectionately called “The Chesleys.”


This post originally appeared January 1, 2012 on

Irene Gallo is the Creative Director for and Art Director for Tor Books.

Irene Gallo
2. Irene
I hear ya, Alan. I was struggling with the idea when I wrote this. This is part of an informal series of post we are (unofficially) calling our “Literary Calendar.” Each post is a quick bio featuring a portrait by David Johnson. Most of the entries will be writers but I did want to include a few key artists. I thought it was best to keep with the format—I like the starkness of it—but I’ll give it more thought between now and future artist entries.
Mike Conley
3. NomadUK
Chesley Bonestell was wonderful. I grew up reading books illustrated with his paintings, instilled with the sense of wonder of far-off worlds and distant suns. I get the same feeling when I read Arthur C Clarke; I think they were kindred souls in a way.

Thanks for reminding me.
Michael Walsh
4. MichaelWalsh
The winner of the 2002 Hugo Award for Best Related Book was The Art of Chesley Bonestell (isbn: 1855858843) - which is sadly OP and dreadfully expensive to to purchase (hello Inter-Library Loan!) but well worth the effort!

Coming in second was my publication Being Gardner Dozois - of which both Michael Swanwick (interviewer of Gardner) and I both agreed that there was no shame in coming in second to Chesley Bonestell. I thought that if we had won that obviously the voters were obviously insane.
5. TheMadLibrarian
How about a link to pictures or books, if you don't want to put the pictures directly in the thread?
6. River
Recently bought a picture at a thrift store . Its a picture of a train, canadian pacific. At bottom left side is the name Chesley Bonestell it is printed. Its approx. 14 by 18 Is there any way to find out any thing about this picture
Irene Gallo
7. Irene
Fred Taraba is an illustration art dealer, he may be able to evaluate it:
j p
8. sps49
C'mon, y'all, Irene doesn't have to use the search engines for us....

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