Émile-Antoine Bayard’s Vivid Illustrations of Jules Verne’s Around the Moon: The First Serious Works of Space Art (1870)

What does space trav­el look like? Even now, in the 21st cen­tu­ry, very, very few of us know first-hand. But we’ve all seen count­less images from count­less eras pur­port­ing to show us what it might look like. As with any­thing imag­ined by man, some­one had to ren­der a con­vinc­ing vision of space trav­el first, and that dis­tinc­tion may well go to 19th-cen­tu­ry French illus­tra­tor Émile-Antoine Bayard who, per­haps not sur­pris­ing­ly, worked with Jules Verne. Verne’s pio­neer­ing and pro­lif­ic work in sci­ence fic­tion lit­er­a­ture has kept him a house­hold name, but Bayard’s may sound more obscure; still, we’ve all seen his art­work, or at least we’ve all seen the draw­ing of Cosette the orphan he did for Les Mis­érables.

“Read­ers of Jules Verne’s ear­ly sci­ence-fic­tion clas­sic From the Earth to the Moon (De la terre à la lune) — which left the Bal­ti­more Gun Club’s bul­let-shaped pro­jec­tile, along with its three pas­sen­gers and dog, hurtling through space — had to wait a whole five years before learn­ing the fate of its heroes,” says The Pub­lic Domain Review.

When it appeared, 1870’s Around the Moon (Autour de la Lune) offered not just “a fine con­tin­u­a­tion of the space adven­ture” but “a superb series of wood engrav­ings to illus­trate the tale” cre­at­ed by Bayard. “There had been imag­i­nary views of oth­er worlds, and even of space flight before this,” writes Ron Miller in Space Art, “but until Verne’s book appeared, these views all had been heav­i­ly col­ored by mys­ti­cism rather than sci­ence.”

Com­posed strict­ly accord­ing to the sci­en­tif­ic facts known at the time — with a depar­ture here and there in the name of imag­i­na­tion and visu­al metaphor — the illus­tra­tions for A Trip Around the Moon, lat­er pub­lished in a sin­gle vol­ume with its pre­de­ces­sor as A Trip to the Moon and Around It, stand as the ear­li­est known exam­ple of sci­en­tif­ic space art. Verne went as far as to com­mis­sion a lunar map by famed selenog­ra­phers (lit­er­al­ly, schol­ars of the moom’s sur­face) Beer and Maedlerm, and just last year the Lin­da Hall Library named Bayard a “sci­en­tist of the day.” As with the uncan­ni­ly accu­rate pre­dic­tions in Verne’s ear­li­er nov­el Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry, a fair few of the ideas here, espe­cial­ly to do with the mechan­ics of the rock­et’s launch and return to Earth, remain sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly plau­si­ble.

What­ev­er the inno­va­tion of the pro­jec­t’s con­sid­er­able sci­en­tif­ic basis, its artis­tic impres­sion fired up more than a few oth­er imag­i­na­tions: both Verne’s words and Bayard’s art, all 44 pieces of which you can view here, served as major inspi­ra­tions for ear­ly film­mak­er and “father of spe­cial effects” Georges Méliès, for instance, when he made A Trip to the Moon. Dis­ap­point­ed com­plaints about our per­sis­tent lack of moon colonies or even com­mer­cial space flight may have long since grown tire­some, but the next time you hear one of us denizens of the 21st cen­tu­ry air them, remem­ber the work of Verne and Bayard and think of how deep into his­to­ry that desire real­ly runs.

Via The Pub­lic Domain Review.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jules Verne Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts What the 20th Cen­tu­ry Will Look Like in His Lost Nov­el, Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry (1863)

How French Artists in 1899 Envi­sioned Life in the Year 2000: Draw­ing the Future

Sovi­et Artists Envi­sion a Com­mu­nist Utopia in Out­er Space

A Trip to the Moon (and Five Oth­er Free Films) by Georges Méliès, the Father of Spe­cial Effects

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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