There’s a rare chance to see a whimsical train built by Rowland Emett before it is sold at an auction.
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 now in full working-order.
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 – all 8 metres of it – then went into storage, only to ‘disappear’ seven years later, nearly meeting its end at the scrap yard. However, once saved, the current owner restored it.
After being displayed in 2014 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, it proved such a crowd-pleaser that it boosted visitor numbers by 70 percent.
Before it is sold, it will be displayed in its entirety at Bonhams, New Bond Street, from Monday 12 August to Tuesday 3 September. There is no published estimate, but the sculpture is expected to attract a six-figure sum when sold.
Rowland Emett, born in London in 1906 particularly noted for creating the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway, a madcap train ride in Battersea Park for the Festival of Britain, as well as Caractacus Potts’ inspired inventions in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968.
This sculpture, 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.
The display is at Bonhams New Bond Street from 12th August to 3rd September, Mon-Fri 9am to 5:30am.