In this guest blog post, Chesley Bonestell expert Melvin Schuetz reflects on a piece of Bonestell art that holds particular meaning for him.
Some early telescopic observers of the planet Mars claimed that it was crisscrossed with canals. Several theories were put forward to try and explain this phenomenon. One theory was that they were long, low valleys, natural faults in the Martian crust through which fog rolled in from the polar areas when spring came. Chesley Bonestell created a painting to illustrate this theory for the 1956 book, The Exploration of Mars, written by Willy Ley and Wernher von Braun.
Bonestell frequently prepared a study painting as a guide to help him create his ultimate, finished artwork. The vast majority of his preliminary illustrations no longer exist, but fortunately, in this case, Chesley’s preliminary Mars painting survived.
Although the original study painting (above) was done in color, the final version (below) was created in black and white, and this is how it appears in The Exploration of Mars. Note the addition of two astronauts to the finished artwork.
Chesley gave the color study to his wife, Hulda Bonestell, and she bequeathed it to me in her will. Her lawyer sent it to me after her passing in November 1998. I donated the painting to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in 2012. It was displayed there in a special exhibition in 2013.
Melvin Schuetz is a Chesley Bonestell expert and is the author of A Chesley Bonestell Space Art Chronology, the definitive bibliography of Bonestell’s published space artworks. He is a co-producer of the film Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With the Future.
Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With the Future will be screened at the National Air and Space Museum on April 2, 2019. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Melvin Schuetz, as well as director Douglass Stewart and co-producer and space artist Ron Miller. Get tickets now.