Today’s image of a New Year fancy dress roller-skating party at Olympia in 1909 is taken from the online edition of the Illustrated London News Historical Archive 1842 – 2003, available in full text in our Electronic Library. This publication pioneered the use of large, striking images and changed the way news was presented in the nineteenth century press. The newspaper was a great success and published many engravings and illustrations by well-known artists of the time. The ILN is now a significant historical resource and the online site has several essays on different aspects of the paper’s content, including three by Liverpool John Moores University staff: two pieces by Dr. Clare Horrocks on public health and travel in the ILN, and one by Professor Brian Maidment on illustration called Representing the Victorians.
The lively drawing of the Costume Carnival above prompted us to identify the artist and find out more about him using both print and online archival sources. His name, Cyrus Cuneo, appears in the bottom right hand corner and he was a frequent contributer to the ILN. Born in San Francisco in 1879, Cyrus Cuneo saved hard to study to become an artist, starting with a paper round, becoming flyweight boxing champion of the San Francisco area and selling drawings to the local papers before leaving America to study in Paris under James McNeill Whistler, who praised his fluency using oils to sketch the early stages of a painting. Cyrus moved to London and raised his family in the borough of Uxbridge. His son Terence Cuneo went on to become a very well-known artist.
Cyrus was a hard worker and it is possible to trace book jackets, commissions for office buildings, war paintings, scenes featuring trains, bridges and boats, fiction illustration and portraits among his known works. His most famous drawings for the ILN consisted of four double-page illustrations commemorating the death of King Edward VII in 1910, work which required staying up for three days and nights in a row to finish it on time. Cyrus also worked for several magazines and we can locate his short story illustrations using sources such as Nineteenth Century Periodicals and JSTOR online and the printed index to The Strand. His use of dark shadows and white highlights is very distinctive and used to great effect in adventure stories and melodramatic tales such as The Pearl Pendant, shown here. He illustrated stories by many different authors, including Jack London and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Strand and other publications such as the Lady’s Realm, Pall Mall Magazine, The Quiver and Cassell’s Magazine. In our Special Collections we hold a portfolio of reproductions of the six stages of one of his works, A Canadian Camp Fire, along with a photograph of the artist, a brief biography and an analysis of his work by Percy Bradshaw. This is one of a series on ‘the art of the illustrator’ published in the early twentieth century by the Press Art School and would have been purchased for the Liverpool Art School Library for students to learn from the drawing techniques of different illustrators.
Sadly, Cyrus Cuneo’s rich and interesting life came to an end when he was only 37, in July 1916 when he received a scratch at a studio party from a hairpin and died of blood poisoning. Using print indexes, online archive records and digitised primary sources we are able to build up a detailed picture of his life’s work in drawing and painting. As part of this research we also discovered two Liverpool connections: one of Cyrus Cuneo’s paintings, The Diners, belongs to the Walker Art Gallery and he was commissioned to paint several large works for the offices of the Canadian Pacific Railway Offices in the Royal Liver Building. The Cuneo Society, which is primarily concerned with the works of Cyrus’s son Terence, is also a good starting point for information on this very talented and entrepreneurial artist. He is fondly remembered in a tribute published in Fine Arts Journal, October 1916, available in JSTOR: ‘His eye for color, his free, unhesitating and masterly brushwork, and his trained and practiced capacity for arrangement and composition justified the highest hopes and ambitions on his own part and that of his friends….when a slight scratch received at a friend’s studio set up blood poisoning a personality which radiated energy and vitality went out in a moment and the world of art and his friends are sadly the poorer’.
The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, JSTOR, and 19th Century UK Periodicals are all full-text online archives available via the Databases A-Z Index in our Electronic Library.
Art of the Illustrators by Percy Bradshaw (741.64 BRA) and the Index to the Strand Magazine 1891-1950 by Geraldine Beare are available on request in the Special Collections and American Studies Reading Room in the Aldham Robarts Library.
Your Paintings: BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation
The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
English Heritage Archives
The Cuneo Society Website