Chesley Bonestell: Architect, Artist, Astronomer
Photograph and letter
Chesley Bonestell (1888–1986) remains best known for his profound influence on a generation of space enthusiasts, whose dreams were fueled by his images.
Bonestell grew up on San Francisco’s Nob Hill and survived the 1906 earthquake. He became a leading architectural designer and left his mark on such iconic structures as the Chrysler Building, U.S. Supreme Court, and Golden Gate Bridge. His matte paintings for Hollywood films of the 1930s and ‘40s provided stunning backgrounds for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Only Angels Have Wings, Citizen Kane, and The Magnificent Ambersons.
Fascinated by astronomy, Bonestell began to produce paintings of other worlds that reflected the best available science. Life magazine published a spread of his extraterrestrial scenes in 1944. A year later, Mechanix Illustrated introduced its readers to Bonestell’s notion of a “Moon Rocket.” In 1949 he collaborated with writer Willy Ley on the beautifully illustrated book Conquest of Space. The next year, Bonestell teamed with producer George Pal and science fiction writer Robert Heinlein to create the classic spaceflight film Destination Moon. Bonestell also contributed to a series of Collier’s magazine articles on spaceflight that began appearing in 1952, and to books based on that series. Bonestell died at age 98 with an unfinished painting on his easel. A Martian crater and an asteroid have been named in his honor.
Gift of Pip and Frederick C. Durant III
Image credit: © 2007 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
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