OBITUARIES : Blended Astronomy and Art : Painter Chesley Bonestell, 98, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Chesley Bonestell, whose startling renditions of outer space inspired countless astronomers and other scientists to push even farther in their quest for knowledge of man’s universe, is dead at age 98.

He died June 11 at his home in Carmel, it was learned this week. It was from that home and studio that he most recently had painted the astral scenes that hung in observatories and museums throughout the land.

A man of multifaceted talents, Bonestell was an architect who took up painting but only after he had selected astronomy as a lifetime avocation.

He once said in an interview with Associated Press that he first was hooked on the heavens at age 10 in his native San Francisco, where “I first really noticed Venus and I started reading books on astronomy to find out why it was so bright.”


Started With Sketching

He used a youthful talent for sketching to illustrate articles in San Francisco magazines and with the proceeds bought train tickets to Mt. Hamilton Observatory, about 80 miles away, where he first gazed at the stars and planets through a telescope.

As an architect he worked on the Chrysler Building in New York and the Golden Gate Bridge in his hometown, and he came to be widley known for his renderings of how a proposed building would look when completed.

Later he added another facet to his developing reputation and moved to Hollywood, where he executed some of the matte paintings seen in such films as “Citizen Kane,” “War of the Worlds,” “How Green Was My Valley” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”


With Wernher von Braun

In 1949 in collaboration with rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun and science writer Willie Ley, Bonestell produced “The Conquest of Space,” still considered a perfect pattern for the melding of science and art. With the same two men he next published “Beyond the Solar System” and “The Exploration of Mars.” With Arthur C. Clarke, author of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he published “Beyond Jupiter.”

Over the years he also contributed illustrations on space-related articles to Colliers, Life, Look and Scientific American magazines, where his concepts of manned moon-landings and spaceships being launched from platforms 1,000 miles above the Earth proved uncannily accurate.

‘Trip to the Moon’

He was perhaps best known in the Los Angeles area for his 40-foot mural of “A Trip to the Moon,” done in 1957. It was shown at Griffith Park Observatory and then at museums and observatories across the country.

The man Carl Sagan credited with his own early fascination with the universe and “whose early paintings did so much to convey that other worlds are places in some sense like our own,” was recently honored by The Planetary Society.

The Pasadena-based international group held a contest among its members to select a name for an asteroid discovered by Eleanor Helin of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

From the hundreds of entries, the judges chose Bonestell.