Lot 14
  • 14


100,000 - 150,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • "Saturn, Viewed from Titan, one of it's satellites." A mid 1950's study for the 360° Titan panorama, a 1½ x 20 foot panorama created for the Griffith Observatory planetarium in 1959, incorporating Bonestell's most recognizable work, "Saturn viewed from Titan."
  • board, oil
Oil on board, made up of four 3½ x 15 in. panels meant to be displayed in a continuous 360° panorama, mounted together to 8 x 30 in., signed lower right "CB." Captioned on verso in pencil in Bonestell's hand "Sketch for Griffith Observatory, L.A. 360° projected around the dome. Mid-1950's. Saturn, viewed from Titan, one of its satellites (Titan is 3,000 diam., 750,000 mi distant from Saturn). Painted by Chesley Bonestell."


Chesley Bonestell, to Frederick C. Durant III, to Ron Miller


Impey, Chris & Holly Henry. Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration, pp. 114-115; see Ley, Willy. The Conquest of Space, p 132, plate XXXVI; Miller, Ron & Frederick C. Durant III. The Art of Chesley Bonestell, pp 222-223 (final panorama); Miller, Ron. The Evolution of a Space Icon, http://chesleybonestell.tumblr.com/post/90369676094/the-evolution-of-a-space-icon; Wachhorst, W. The Dream of Space Flight: Essays on the Near Edge of Infinity, p 58


Overall excellent condition. All four panels have been mounted and framed together in a square with artist's tape, apparently by Bonestell himself. Some tape lifting at edges, one faint diagonal scratch to lower left panel, a small area with crackling to paint to lower left panel, some light wear to inner edges of panels; back panel of frame with pencil caption in Bonestell's hand, edges of back frame panel worn.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note


"Bonestell brought the edge of infinity out of the abstract and into the realm of direct experience." (Wachorst) Bonestell's Saturn as Seen from Titan, oft referred to as "the painting that launched a thousand careers," is probably the single most famous astronomical painting ever created. While Bonestell created hundreds of astronomical paintings in his lifetime, his 1944 Saturn as Seen from Titan was his favorite. It was his first published space painting, running in the May 29, 1944 issue of Life magazine, and it would launch an era in which his work would ignite countless imaginations; Bonestell's fantastic depictions of worlds beyond would grace numerous issues of magazines such as Life, Collier's, Scientific American, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Coronet and Pic as well as Willy Ley's 1949 The Conquest of Space, and Von Braun & Ley's The Exploration of Mars, amongst many others. Bonestell gave the first version of Saturn, Viewed from Titan to Willy Ley, and it is now a part of the Bonestell Collection at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. He would go on to create six other versions of this painting, including a version that he presented as a gift to his daughter, and the 360° panorama created for the planetarium of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles (memorialized in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean).

Saturn was above all, his favorite subject. "...Bonestell was aesthetically captivated by Saturn, a subject he repeatedly returned to throughout his life. He painted numerous iterations of Saturn from Titan and its other moons. In 1949, for instance, he completed paintings of Saturn from Dione, in which the full body of Saturn is glimpsed from the mouth of a cave. His panorama for the Griffith Observatory, completed in 1959, featured a prescient vision of the frozen landscape of Titan with Saturn low on the horizon. Throughout the 1960s, Bonestell reworked different views of Saturn from Titan, changing the lighting or subtly altering Titan's landscape... Bonestell returned to the subject of Saturn again and again, in various configurations, settings, and lighting." (Impey & Henry)

Bonestell (1888-1986), a San Francisco native, executed his first space painting in 1905 after seeing Saturn through the telescope at the Lick Observatory. This first painting was destroyed in 1906, in the fire caused by the great San Francisco earthquake. His career began in architecture, and many iconic US landmarks came to life from his designs, including the Art Deco façade and eagles of New York City's Chrysler building, the US Supreme Court building, the New York Central building, the Plymouth Rock Memorial, and the Golden Gate Bridge to name but a few. His work took on a whole new dimension when, at the age of fifty, he moved to Los Angeles, where he was to become the highest paid special effects artist in Hollywood (though his work went largely uncredited). The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) all received their distinctive looks from Bonestell's brush and pen, and the buildings designed by Ayn Rand's architect superhero Howard Roark in the 1949 film The Fountainhead were by Bonestell. 

"Bonestell's paintings electrified a generation of teenage space enthusiasts: aspiring writers, astronomers, physicists, artists, and engineers... The late Carl Sagan said he didn't know what other worlds looked like until he saw Bonestell's paintings of the Solar System. Joseph Chamberlain, director of the Adler Planetarium, maintained that 'It might even be suggested that without Bonestell and his early space age artistry, the NASA era might have been delayed for many years, or it might not have happened at all.'" Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who collaborated with Bonestell on Beyond Jupiter (1972), said that 'Chesley is the original Kilroy — he's been there ahead of them all. Neil Armstrong? Well, Tranquility Base was established over Bonestell's tracks and discarded squeezed-out paint tubes. The man not only moves across space, but also across time. He was present at our world's birth and has also set up his easel to paint its death...' (Miller & Durant)