Rowland Emett, the British artist and inventor, is most famous for his magical flying car and the crackpot machines made for the film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But his largest, most ambitious – and in Emett’s view, his finest work – was his kinetic sculpture, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley, which is in full working-order and will be displayed in its entirety at Bonhams, New Bond Street, from Monday 12th August to Tuesday 3rd September. It will then be offered in a stand-alone auction at Bonhams on 3rd September.
There is no published estimate, but the sculpture is expected to attract a six-figure sum
This whimsical train ride was initially a commission for a shopping centre, but by the time the sculpture was completed in 1984, it was no longer required. It was then bought by the current owner and first exhibited in Spitalfields Market, London, in 1992.
The piece then went into storage, only to ‘disappear’ seven years later, nearly meeting its end at the scrap yard. However, once saved, the current owner expertly restored it, adding a digital control system. After being displayed in 2014 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, it proved such a crowd-pleaser that it boosted visitor numbers by 70 per cent.
Bonhams Global Head of Collectors’ Department, Jon Baddeley, said: “A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley is imbued with Emett’s trademark wit and inventiveness. It encapsulates many of the themes that appeared in his work over the decades – the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway first appeared at the Festival of Britain in 1951 – and combines his whimsical imagination with a very British sense of humour.”
Rowland Emett was a real-life “Caractacus Potts”, born in London in 1906 and died in 1990. He achieved fame as a cartoonist and designer and was particularly noted for creating the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway, a madcap train ride in Battersea Park, as well as Caractacus Potts’ inspired inventions in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968. Many of his pieces are on public display, both in the United Kingdom and North America.
A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley tells the story of a pleasure trip on the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway.
The centre of the creation features a train called Wild Goose, driven by an ingenious driver who toasts tea-cakes on the fire-box as the train trundles along a raised railway line. As he passes Cowparsley Meadow a farmer plays his harp soothingly to his herd of cows, and in a secluded dell at Wisteria Halt, there is a beautiful flowering tree, on top of which sits the clock.
At Shrimphaven Sands, a fisherman can be seen out at sea, hauling in a net in which he appears to have caught a mermaid. As Wild Goose continues its journey past Twittering Woods, an ornithologist is seen cycling along with his camera – he is disguised as a tree and a bird has made its nest in his bicycle lamp.
On the beach at Oyster Creek, a bathing hut is occupied by an elderly gentleman dressed in full-length Victorian swimwear, who dives dramatically into the water from time to time.
Finally, for those passengers on Wild Goose whose wishes and dreams are not yet met, there is a wishing well, complete with a typically Emett-esque leaking bucket.
• Rowland Emett’s Masterpiece ‘A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley’ will be displayed at Bonhams from 12 August to 3 September, 2019. Admission free. Open Monday to Friday, 9am – 4.30pm | Location: Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London W1S 1SR |Sale date: Tuesday 3rd September at 12 noon, specialist Jon Baddeley