Firefly Leaving Box Tunnel, Great Western Railway, c.1841 signed and dated '.CUNEO./JANUARY '85' (lower right) oil on canvas 77 x 102 cm. (30 1/4 x 40 1/4 in.)
Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Literature: Narisa Chakra, Terence Cuneo: Railway Painter of the Century, London, New Cavendish Books, 1990, p.134-5 (col.ill.p.135)
This painting depicts the historic Box Tunnel, built by the Great Western Railway's chief engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Located on the London to Bristol line, between Bath and Swindon, the tunnel was the longest railway tunnel in existence at its time of completion. Work began on the tunnel in 1836 and was finally completed on 30th June 1841.
The construction of the tunnel presented an enormous engineering challenge to Brunel as Box Hill largely consisted of soft limestone. The tunnel is completely straight and has a steep descending gradient of 1 in 100 over two miles, a fact which caused quite a stir at the time of its construction, as it was considered that passengers might be too frighted to use the train.
The present work was painted by Terence Cuneo in order to raise funds for the building of a replica Firefly locomotive, now housed at Didcot Railway Centre. The painting was reproduced as a print which sold in aid of the replica.