The Spacescapes of Chesley Bonestell

Anyone old enough to remember the classic space art that once graced so many science and science fiction publications during the postwar decades will undoubtedly have come across the impressive paintings of Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986). He was an artistic consultant for the movie Destination Moon (1950) and illustrated astronomer Willy Ley’s Conquest of Space (1949) which I have in front of me at the moment.

The works of the 1940s and ’50s in particular evince a certain charming naivety and optimism, especially his streamlined silvery rocket ships and busy spacemen (iconic elements of the Golden Age of science fiction). As we know now from the probes and explorations of the planets, many of the real landscapes do not quite live up to the imaginings of this talented artist. Bonestell presents the planet Mars with its famous hypothetical waterways and hints of vegetation. Jupiter’s moon of Europa is shown with the huge mother planet looming in the sky overhead in what looks like a winter holiday scene with tiny astronauts moving about its shimmering icy terrain.

At some point I would like to collect and frame his pictures to place over my desk, but unfortunately they are hard to come by. The only new commercial print I could find is one entitled “Mars Mission” and there are some old science fiction journal covers available for auction. Well, since my funds for such hobbies are limited, it can’t hurt to start slowly!

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