On May 20 1932 Amelia Earhart set off from Newfoundland, planning to fly non-stop to Paris and become the first woman to fly the Atlantic alone. This week marks the eightieth anniversary of her flight.
Earhart was already a global celebrity. She had flown the Atlantic in a team in 1928, again the first woman to do so. That year, three other women had died attempting the same flight, so their successful journey had made headlines across the world, not to mention getting them a ticker-tape parade through New York and an audience with the US President. This time, on the solo flight, weather conditions forced her to land in northern Ireland rather then her shceduled stop of Paris: ‘After scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood,’ she said, ‘I pulled up in a farmer’s back yard.’
Regardless of the exact location of her touchdown, the safe landing cemented her celebrity status as the world’s foremost, record-breaking, female aviator.
This painting, which Sickert based on a photograph taken from a newspaper, actually shows Earhart arriving in England (at Hanworth, very near today’s Heathrow airport) the following day. In the driving rain – not so different from the May we’ve had this year – she is just visible in profile, wearing her trademark close-fitting cap, in the right-hand side of the picture. The rest of the composition is taken up with the crowd of newsmen and spectators gathered to witness her arrival: gathering the day’s top news story.
Earhart disappeared over the Pacific in 1937, during her attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world and nothing was ever found of her, her plane and her crew. The United States government launched an intensive (but ultimately unsuccesful) air and sea search and spent $4 million looking for her; the most costly search ever undertaken at the time. Earhart remains a celebrity, however. The mystery of her disapperance still makes the news even today: in March of this year, 75 years on, a new search for signs of her plane was reported.
Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow chose this image as one of his key works from the Tate collection. You can see his thoughts on journalism and celebrity in this video: