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Rowland Emett’s last mechanical sculpture saved for the nation

Fantasy railway sculpture begins national tour at Locomotion in Shildon.

The last work by one of Britain’s best-loved artists and sculptors, Rowland Emett, has been saved for the UK after being purchased for the Science Museum Group Collection.

Named ‘A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley’, the unique moving sculpture will initially go on display at Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, before touring Science Museum Group sites across the UK.

The sculpture was acquired for a six-figure sum from a private seller, with the support of Art Fund, the Science Museum Foundation, the Friends of the National Railway Museum and private donors.

Constructed in 1984, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley comprises eight separate machines that together tell the story of a journey aboard the imaginary ‘Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway’. The railway was based on one of his earlier cartoons—a life size model of which, complete with three locomotives, was created for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

At Locomotion, the artwork will come to life three times a day to treat visitors to a 15-minute, three-dimensional display. This will see automata wheels turn and colourful characters will go fishing, cycling and toast teacakes aboard a fantastical locomotive.  

Born in London in 1906, Emett initially found fame producing whimsical cartoons for Punch magazine before creating a series of intricate mechanical sculptures based on his imaginative creations. As well as numerous artworks and cartoons, he is also well known for the inventions of ‘Caractacus Potts' which starred in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.   

The sculpture is one of Rowland Emett’s largest pieces and was originally commissioned for a shopping centre before being exhibited at Spitalfields Market in London. In 1999 while being stored, it was stolen for scrap metal but later recovered.

‘A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley’ has since been refurbished and was exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Compton Verney in Warwickshire.

The sculpture is now on display at the centre of Locomotion’s main building, alongside famous rail vehicles such as pioneering locomotive Sans Pareil, which competed in the 1829 Rainhill Trials.   

Sarah Price, Head of Locomotion, said:

“I am very pleased to be able to bring one of Rowland Emett’s most ambitious works to Locomotion where I’m sure it will delight and inspire our visitors in equal measure.

“We are well known for telling the story of railway engineering and in its own way, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley is a triumph of mechanical engineering which very much deserves a place in the collection.”

The acquisition will ensure the artwork remains in the UK and on show for the public.

After initial display at Locomotion, the sculpture is due to begin a national tour of Science Museum Group sites. The final leg of the journey will see A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley travel to the National Railway Museum in York where it will go on display inside the new Central Hall—due to be completed in 2025. 

Locomotion is a partnership with Durham County Council and part of the Science Museum Group. The museum welcomes around 200,000 visitors each year.  

Ends

For more information, please contact:

Simon Baylis
01904 686 299

simon.baylis@railwaymuseum.org.uk

Pam Porter
pam.porter@locomotion.org.uk
01904 685784

About Locomotion:

  • Locomotion offers visitors the chance to see highlights of the national collection of railway vehicles in Shildon—the world’s first railway town
  • Locomotion forms part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and the National Railway Museum in York
  • Locomotion is a partnership between the Science Museum Group and Durham County Council, which is a major funder of the museum
  • Admission to Locomotion is free
  • For more information visit www.locomotion.org.uk

Art Fund

  • Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections
  • Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 151,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions and subscription to Art Quarterly magazine
  • In addition to grant giving, Art Fund’s support to museums includes Art Fund Museum of the Year (won by St Fagans National History Museum near Cardiff in July 2019) and a range of digital platforms.
  • www.artfund.org