Wednesday 15 June 2016

Cyrus Cuneo (1879 - 1916) - Official First World War Artist

Few people these days have heard of one of the official First World War Artists, Cyrus Cincinato Cuneo.  This year marks the centenary of his death.  

Cyrus Cuneo, father of Terence Cuneo who was also an artist, was born in San Francisco in 1879.  His parents were John Cuneo and his wife Annie, nee Garaboldi, of Italian origin.  Cyrus's  brothers Rinaldo and Egisto were also artists but his sisters Erminia, Clovinda and Evelina preferred music.

Cyrus demonstrated artistic ability at an early age and worked hard to save enough money to study art in Paris.   With his brother Rinaldo, Cyrus, who was very athletic, became a boxer, entering contests and winning prizes.  Cyrus became Flyweight Boxing Champion in San Francisco.   By 1896, he had enough money to go to Paris where he enrolled at the Academie Colarossi and was a pupil of the artist Whistler.

Six years later, Cyrus went to live in England where he married one of his classmates from Paris - Nellie Marion Tenison - in Fulham in 1903.   In 1911, the couple lived in Uxbridge Road, Hammersmith, London with their two children Desmond and Terence, and Nellie's mother.  Cyrus worked as an illustrator for publications such as "The Strand Magazine" and the "Illustrated London News".  He also produced illustrations for some of the best known writers of the era such as Arthur Conan Doyle,  E.W. Hornung (both of whom were members of the J.M. Barrie recreational cricket team) and H. Rider Haggard, to name but a few.  Cyrus was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and his work was exhibited at The Royal Academy.

When King Edward VII died on 6th May 1910, Cyrus went without sleep for four nights and worked solidly to produce four double page spreads of the funeral for the "Illustrated London News".   When the First World War broke out, Cyrus became an official War Artist.   One of his paintings was auctioned in 1915 and raised sufficient funds to purchase two ambulances which were sent to France bearing the inscription "The Cyrus Cuneo Ambulance". 

Cyrus died on 23rd July 1916 after a brief illness at the age of 37 after having been accidentally stabbed with a hatpin at a dance.