Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Bonestell, Chesley

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1888-1986) US astronomical illustrator. Bonestell studied as an architect at Columbia University in New York, but never graduated, dropping out in his third year; nevertheless he was employed by many architectural firms and aided in the design of the Golden Gate Bridge and Chrysler Building. He then began working as a matte artist to produce special effects and matte paintings for over a dozen films, including Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941), The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), Destination Moon (1950), When Worlds Collide (1951), War of the Worlds (1953), and Conquest of Space (1955); his work was also used in Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) – albeit without his permission; the images were simply copied from the book The Conquest of Space (1949) – and the television series Men into Space (1959-1960).

In the early 1940s he began astronomical painting on a major scale; much of his work appeared in Life magazine, though his most influential paintings were those that accompanied the renowned series of space articles in Collier's Weekly (1952-1953) overseen by Wernher von Braun. From 1949 to 1972, he completed astronomical artwork for ten books, including the classic science-fact book The Conquest of Space (1949), with text by Willy Ley, and Beyond Jupiter: The Worlds of Tomorrow (1972), a collaboration with Arthur C Clarke. In 1950-1951 Bonestell painted a 10 x 40 feet (about 3 x 12 metres) mural for the Boston Museum of Science; it was transferred to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in 1976. His space paintings were also used as cover illustrations for Astounding (12 covers) and F&SF (38 covers) from 1947 onwards, making him a favourite of sf fans. In depicting planetary landscapes and predicted space vehicles, his style was a photographic realism, showing great attention to correctness of perspective and scale in conformity with scientific knowledge, if not always the latest such knowledge: many of his depictions of the planets – from a solid, volcanic surface on Jupiter to canals on Mars – were fairly old-fashioned even at the time he created them, and his craggy, alpine lunar landscapes (see Moon) proved to look nothing at all like the real thing. His paintings of Saturn (see Outer Planets) as seen from the surfaces of its moons are understandably regarded as classics. But, more than that, his work held great beauty and drama in its stillness and depth. Many book lovers of the post-World War Two generation may attribute their fascination with space exploration as much to Bonestell's paintings as to their reading of space fiction or nonfiction, and Gary Westfahl has suggested that his dogged determination to follow scientific principles in his artistic creations was a key influence on the development of Hard SF.

The recipient of many awards, Bonestell earned a Special Achievement Hugo in 1974, and he was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005. The Chesley Awards for outstanding science fiction and fantasy art are named in his honour. Bonestell also has an Asteroid named for him: 3129 Bonestell. [JG/PN/GW/RM]

see also: Astounding Science-Fiction; Lucien Rudaux; Space Stations.

Chesley Knight Bonestell Jr

born San Francisco, California: 1 January 1888

died 11 June 1986


about the artist


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies