Historical Cuneo painting reinstalled at City Hall

The Cuneo painting was reinstalled in Prince Albert’s council chambers at City Hall at the beginning of March. (City of Prince Albert/Submitted)

A rare work of art dating back to the early 1900s has been restored to once again grace the walls of Prince Albert’s council chambers at City Hall.

The oil on canvas painting, Sir John Simpson on His Tour of Inspection from the Hudson’s Bay to the Pacific Coast, is the work of American-born British artist Cyrus Cincinnati Cuneo. 

It was originally a gift to the City from the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). The painting is the first conservation project of the Prince Albert Public Art Working Group, which recommended the expenditure of $33,000 for its restoration.

“The Cuneo painting is a significant piece of art that has hung in the council chamber for decades. It’s a major public art asset now worth as much as $80,000,” said Judy MacLeod Campbell, the City of Prince Albert’s arts and culture coordinator, in a news release.

“When the Public Art Working Group developed a multi-year public art plan, a condition report of the existing public art was completed and upon examining options for one of its first major projects, this stood out as a priority. It’s important to take care of the assets we have before acquiring new ones.”

The painting was restored by Fraser/Spafford Ricci Art & Archival Conservation Inc. in South Surrey, BC.

According to the conservation report, the painting at some point was removed from its stretcher—potentially the originally one—before it was stored, rolled and folded.

“It was crushed, as evidenced by canvas creases and paint losses associated with the creasing and deformation of an unstretched canvas. There were also creases and paint losses associated with fold lines,” it said.

“Due to the age of the painting and years of public display, the surface of the painting had a thick layer of dirt and grime, and a discoloured varnish layer.”

The Cuneo painting “had a thick layer of dirt and grime, and a discoloured varnish layer,” according to the restoration report. (City of Prince Albert/Submitted)

MacLeod Campbell reached out to the Mann Art Gallery to help hang the piece in the council chambers. Acting registrar Tia Furstenburg and Michel Boutin, who works at the gallery on a contract basis, took on the job.

“Because it’s such a large piece, I had to build a custom French cleat hanging system for it,” said Furstenburg.

“That involved two pieces of wood. You put one on the wall and one on the back of the piece and then they kind of sit like a puzzle once you put the painting on the wall, and so it’s really good for heavy works like the Cuneo.”

The painting is a couple hundred pounds, she said. It’s about 104 by 87 inches in its frame.

It’s been on display since the beginning of March.

“It’s a happy surprise to see art in a place that you wouldn’t necessarily expect it, so I think that it’s great that the public has access to such a lovely piece of artwork and that we can all appreciate it,” added Furstenburg.

When the CPR’s offices burnt down in the 1940s, many of Cuneo’s paintings were destroyed with it. 

“There is a visible difference in the painting and it is now in a condition that will ensure it’s longevity for many years to come,” said McLeod Campbell.

Prince Albert’s Public Art Working Group was created in 2016. Recent projects include temporary cross walk art and the decommissioning of the Eaglechild totem pole on the riverbank.