Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Lunar Landscape

Chesley Bonestell was born in 1888, studied architecture in San Francisco and was involved in the design for the Golden Gate Bridge.  He went on to provide matte paintings for movies like Citizen Kane and Only Angels Have Wings before turning to astronomical painting in the early 1940s.  He collaborated with Willy Ley on The Conquest of Space (1949), worked on science fiction films with George Pal and created a huge mural of the lunar landscape for the Boston Museum of Science.  This is now in the Smithsonian and you can see it at their website.  As they explain, 'just as 19th–century artists created huge paintings to help Americans envision the scenic wonders of the West, A Lunar Landscape helped viewers imagine what it would be like to stand on another world. And just as those painters had taken artistic license to enhance the western landscape’s grandeur, Bonestell presented a dramatically lit moonscape with sharp peaks, jagged canyons, and precipitous crater walls.  Photos taken by the first lunar probes showed a very different place. They revealed a gentler, far less dramatic world than Bonestell had envisioned. Recognizing that the mural could no longer be considered accurate, museum officials removed it from display in 1970.'  Which is how it ended up at the Smithsonian.

There is a detailed account of Bonestell's career by Ron Miller which discusses the question of why he over-dramatised the lunar landscape and explains some of his methods, including a technique of spherical perspective to show planetary surfaces from high altitudes, and the use of plasticine models, photographed using a pin hole camera to achieve maximum depth of field and then mounted on board to be painted using oil glazes. The Visual Index of Science Fiction Cover Art, VISCO, has in its archive images that Bonestell painted from 1947.  The first of these (above) is not actually a landscape but is so striking that I can't resist including it here.  A few more, showing the landscapes of other worlds, are given below.  Apparently Bonestell himself disliked science fiction and "never read the stuff" but his art works continued to appear on the covers of Astounding and Fantasy and Science Fiction until the late seventies. 

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