The Evolution of Space Art

From the first imaginings of other worlds to today’s realistic planet-scapes.

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Exploring Europa

Ron Miller is a longtime space artist who has written more than 50 books, including The Grand Tour and In the Stream of Stars. His latest, The Art of Space: The History of Space Art, From the Earliest Visions to the Graphics of the Modern Era, came out last year.

Says Miller, “I had originally intended to do an updated edition of my book about renowned space artist Chesley Bonestell, but I then decided to broaden the book’s scope, which now features more than 350 depictions of planets, moons, stars, galaxies, and space colonies from dozens of artists (myself included).”

The gallery below is a sample of some of the genres represented in the book. Read an interview with Miller here.

Lunar landscape, 1884

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(From the collection of Ron Miller)

This depiction of the lunar surface was created by Paul Fouché for Camille Flammarion’s Les terres du ciel (1884). Featuring nearly 100 commissioned illustrations, it was the first book to be illustrated almost entirely with space art. Here Fouché depicts a lunar landscape that is more realistic than the towering crags favored by most other artists at the time.

Conquest of the Moon, 1887

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(From the collection of Ron Miller)

French artist George Roux depicts a crew of lunar castaways observing an eclipse as the Earth passes in front of the sun.

Eclipse on the Moon

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(From the collection of Ron Miller)

This scene, set on the Moon as the Earth eclipses the sun, is one of the many extraordinary pictures created by Scriven Bolton in the first decades of the 20th century. To create many of his illustrations, Bolton introduced the technique of combining painting with photos of meticulously constructed model landscapes.

Martian marshes

In the 1930s, Lucien Rudaux showed a pair of hapless explorers slogging through the dense marshes that some astronomers thought might exist on Mars. The illustration was one of several offering theories about possible conditions on the surface of the Red Planet.

Saturn from Rhea

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(From the collection of Ron Miller)

Lucien Rudaux painted this superb rendering of Saturn (seen from its moon Rhea) for his 1937 book, Sur les autres mondes. Although painted nearly 80 years ago, it holds up well—even with the detailed knowledge we have since gathered about the planet.

Surface of Mercury, 1955

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(From the collection of Ron Miller)

Jack Coggins envisioned the furnace-like surface of Mercury in this watercolor painted for The Big Book of Stars, a children’s book about astronomy published in 1955.

End of the Run

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(©John Berkey Art Ltd/John Berkey.com)

After he illustrated the covers for Ballantine Books’ STAR series in the 1970s, John Berkey was in demand for science-fiction book covers. This painting, End of the Run, is typical of the work he did. Berkey was eventually inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame, where he was called the most influential and innovative futurist artist of his time.

Volcano on Io

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(Ron Miller)

Tohil Mons is a towering 18,000-foot peak looming over the volcanic landscape of Io. Of all the places in the solar system, Io and Saturn’s giant moon, Titan, most appeal to artist Ron Miller.

Exploring Europa

In Exploring Europa, Miller tries to convey a sense of what it might feel like to stand on the surface of Jupiter’s huge ice moon. Scientists suspect that deep beneath Europa’s fractured crust lies an enormous underground sea of warm water, making the moon a prime candidate in the search for life.

Interstellar spacecraft

David Hardy portrays an asteroid as an interstellar spacecraft. Here we see it arriving at a distant Earth-like world.