Cyrus Cincinato Cuneo, ROI 1879-1916

Cyrus Cincinato Cuneo, ROI (1879-1916), known as Ciro, was a painter and illustrator, born into an Italian American family of artists and musicians. His first published drawings appeared in an Italian newspaper when he was sixteen and he spent the next three years working for the San Francisco Press. He also trained as a boxer, becoming the fly-weight champion at the Olympic Club in San Francisco and his prize money, together with earnings from spare-time jobs and the sale of sketches, funded his move to Paris to study painting in 1896. In an interview with the Newcastle Journal, published 30 July 1910, he stated:


'I had only one ambition in the world. It was to go to Paris and study art. That was my consuming desire, and, before I was twenty, though my parents never gave me a farthing towards it – simply because they could not spare it – I had saved enough to take me across land and ocean six thousand miles to the city of my dreams. I was only a youngster, but I never hesitated a moment’.


In Paris, Cuneo joined the Colarossi’s studio and trained under James Abbott McNeill Whistler, eventually becoming his massier or head student. Cuneo set up an afternoon sketching school with Edith Œnone Somerville (1858-1949), and teaching sketching and boxing helped him to support himself in Paris. He was living at 9, Rue Campagne, Première Montparnasse, Paris, in 1900 when he first exhibited at the Royal Academy. He showed two works in that year, both of them illustrations from Shakespeare's King Lear.


Cuneo moved to London c.1904 and was elected ROI in 1908. He was particularly  successful as an illustrator for magazines such as the Illustrated London News. During the First World War he painted war subjects in London and the sale by auction of one of his paintings paid for two motor ambulances for the front. He died tragically at the age of thirty-seven, succumbing to sepsis caused by a scratch from a hat pin sustained during a dance. His son, Terence Tenison Cuneo, CVO, OBE, RGI, FGRA (1907-1996), went on to become a successful artist depicting diverse subjects including horses, railways, and military actions. During the Second World War he was commissioned by the Foreign Office to produce anti-Nazi drawings and cartoons and in 1953 he was the official artist for the Coronation of Elizabeth II.