Sunday, December 18, 2011

Drawing on the Past: CYRUS CUNEO

Work: The Thief of the Night: Further Adventures of A. J. Raffles by E.W. Hornung
(Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905)
First American Edition

Artist: Cyrus Cuneo (1878 - 1916)

Apart from Arthur I. Keller who I wrote about briefly several months ago I think I have more books illustrated by Cyrus Cuneo than any other artist of his period. His work can be found in all sorts of adventure, crime and lost race novels: Queen's Sheba's Ring and Nada the Lily both by H. Rider Haggard, The Weird Picture (reviewed on this blog here) and The Viking's Skull both by John Carling, The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, Dr. Silex by Harris Burland, The Red Room by William LeQueux, and nearly all the work of Charles Gilson, author of The Lost Island, The Lost Empire, The Race Round the World and other adventure and lost race novels.

American born Cuneo spent most of his life in San Francisco, moved to Canada where he did some paintings for Canadian Pacific Railway, and then moved onto England in the early 1900s where he remained painting, doing much of his work for magazines, newspapers and books. He died very young, only 37, from blood poisoning incurred after he was accidentally stabbed by a hat pin at a dance. For a brief overview of Cuneo's life and work go here. The essay is written by his son Terrence Cuneo, a British artist well known for railway studies and strange paintings of mice.

Below are seven of the ten illustration plates found in this excellent collection of short stories about literature's most famous gentleman thief, A.J. Raffles. Click to enlarge for better appreciation.


  1. Always astonished me as to how quickly these artists had to knock-out good work. And they were never paid very much.

  2. A nice pre-Christmas prezzie, John. Love these illustrations.

  3. It's a pity that the genre nowadays has lost its artistic touch.

    And it’s not just illustrations, like these, but also maps, diagrams and even illustrating a book cover has become a lost art form – which consists now of taking a (stock) picture and slapping a title with the name of author across it.

    Anyway, thanks for posting these!

  4. I hadn't heard of this artist, but what wonderful examples - ethereal, in a way. And what a melodramatic and unusual way to die!

  5. What a sad way to die--being accidently stabbed by a hat pin! Just today one of my kids was asking me how people survived before the advent of antibiotics and I said "many didn't." Certainly this would be a case in point.

  6. Lovely picture John - did he do the silhouette cover as well?

  7. Sorry, Sergio, can't help you there. My interent research only goes so far. I would make an educated guess that it was one of the several studio artists better known for doing pictorial covers, but I can't find the tell-tale intials or signature that would signify studio work. For example: DD would mean Decorative Designers, MA is Margaret Armstrong.

  8. Fascinating stuff John - reading your blog is, as always, a true education - cheers.