A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley
A Quiet Afternoon In The Cloud Cuckoo Valley is the largest and, in his own view, best artwork that Rowland Emett ever ceated. It depicts the tale of a pleasure trip on the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway and is in fact made up of eight separate machines that, together, tell a single, coherent story.
It was originally commissioned as a landmark clock, and was destined to adorn a new shopping area in Basildon, England. But by the time the artwork was completed in 1984, those plans had changed. It was bought instead by the present owner and was not exhibited until 1992 – in Spitalfields Market, London. Sadly, Emett himself had passed away just two years earlier, so never saw his greatest masterpiece exhibited in public.
When its time at Spitalfields came to an end, A Quiet Afternoon In The Cloud Cuckoo Valley was again put into what was thought to be safe storage… but in 1999 it was stolen by some enterprising thieves from a warehouse in Hertfordshire. It was sold by the thieves to a scrap metal dealer who became suspicious and alerted the Police, so it was thankfully recovered. The scrap metal dealer had paid just one hundred pounds for it, at a time when the artwork was thought to be worth closer to a quarter of a million pounds.
Today, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley is in fantastic condition, having undergone a comprehensive restoration. It has been shown in recent years within UK museum spaces, alongside others of Emett’s works of art and other artists’ automata, and forms the centrepiece of any exhibition.
Eight ‘Things’ that tell the full story
The artwork is in fact made up of eight larger-than-life automata which complete the canvas of A Quiet Afternoon on the Cloud Cuckoo Valley:
The central feature is a train called Wild Goose, driven by an ingenious driver who toasts tea-cakes on the fire-box as the train trundles along.
Cow Parsley Meadow
At Cowparsely Meadow a farmer plays his harp soothingly to his herd of cows, who nod their heads in appreciation.
There is a large water wheel that turns timelessly at Far Tottering, its brass cups beaten and misshapen from years of use.
In a secluded dell at Wisteria Halt, there is a beautiful flowering tree on top of which sits a clock – originally intended as the focal point of the whole piece.
At Shrimphaven Sands, a fisherman can be seen out at sea, hauling in a net in which, rather surprisingly, he appears to have caught a mermaid.
As Wild Goose continues on its journey past Twittering Woods, an ornithologist is seen cycling along with his camera – he is disguised as a tree, and has done such a good job at hiding from his quarry that a bird has chosen to make 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.
The Wishing Well
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!