Rowland Emett

Dawn Flight: Mist Clearing, Mallard Rising and the Early Up Slow Surprised


Not on display
Rowland Emett 1906–1990
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 540 x 760 mm
Presented by the artist and his wife 1985

Catalogue entry

Rowland Emett born 1906

T03940 Dawn Flight: Mist Clearing, Mallard Rising and the Early Up Slow Surprised before 1978

Ink and watercolour on wove paper 540 x 760 (21 1/4 x 29 7/8)
Inscribed ‘Dawn Flight: mist clearing, mallard rising and the early Up Slow Surprised' b.r., ‘EMETT' b.l. and ‘AS SHRIMP | TRAIN | W line | C3 | N.R.S.' on right margin
Presented by the artist and his wife 1985
Lit: Jacqui Grossart, Rowland Emett, exh. cat., Chris Beetles Gallery 1988, pp.14-17, and 80 Repr: Civil Aviation Authority Christmas card 1983 (in col.)

This work depicts an early morning scene of a flying-machine moving from left to right above a river in which a small boat floats among reeds. Birds fly into the distance and to the left of the river a train driver stares up at the flying-machine.

Emett began to draw fantastical machines for Punch in 1939. In 1951 a working railway at Battersea Park for the Festival of Britain celebrations was made from his drawings of trains for Punch. Since then he has been commissioned several times to make the train and the flying-machine shown in T03940 in slightly varying forms (generally between ten and eighteen feet in length). Grossart writes that the flying machine reproduced in the Tate picture was first made in 1968, when it was commissioned by the British Oxygen Company. Another version was commissioned in the early 1970s by Hawker Siddeley in New York to help promote sales of a company jet. A version was also shown at the Sydney Motor Show in 1970. The Ontario Science Centre in Toronto own a version of the flying-machine and a locomotive. They bought the flying-machine in c.1974 after it had been displayed in a Toronto shopping mall. A version of the flying-machine is reproduced in The Illustrated London News, June 1984, p.43 (col.) and a version of the train is reproduced in the Sunday Express magazine, 29 April 1984, p.43 (col.). The artist has also made many drawings of both machines.

On a Civil Aviation Christmas card in 1983 Emett described the flying-machine illustrated in T03940, which he called, ‘The Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark II Gentleman's Flying Machine':

The machine is constructed of cane windbreaks from little-known French vineyards and the wings are supported upon willowy saplings; all major control surfaces are covered with wild silk, suitably tamed. Power is provided by a Wandering Hot-Air Brazier and a swarm of underslung silver butterflies provide a trivial lift to the nose section. There is a full-time Auto-Pilot FRED (Freehand Remembering Empirical Doodling system) and the co-pilot Rover in a combined pet-pod and windsock. The rudder provides a First Class dickey-seat for Cirro Cumulus II, the pilot's personal pleasure cat. Main wheels retract into semi-buoyant shrimplike nacelles and ‘Eiffle' Altimeter gives those three heights every well-found pilot should know - Canal Level, OUR CHIMNEY and Milky Way.

Emett made T03940 in his studio in Ditchling, West Sussex. He began with a free pencil drawing, then worked it up to an exact version, which he used as the basis for a fine sepia pen-drawing. Light watercolour washes were added, for which the colours were mixed in the margin around the work.

In a letter to the compiler dated 29 March 1988 Emett explained that the title for T03940, which is inscribed at the bottom right of the work, was chosen in order to evoke ‘A generally 18th cent[ury] flavour, redolent of Turner's high-flown examples'. J M W Turner (1775-1851) often painted scenes in which, as in T03940, the sun hangs low over the horizon, diffusing light across the water. The ‘Dawn Flight' of Emett's title refers to the early morning ascent of a flying-machine amid clearing mist, while Mallards, or wild ducks, rise above the water. The ‘Early Up Slow Surprised' refers to the amazed expression of the train driver journeying ‘up' towards town.

In the same letter, Emett confirmed that the scene is not set in a particular era, the figures are not portraits of particular people, and that the landscape does not refer to a particular view. ‘It is the sort of landscape that sort of locomotive and that sort of flying-machine would naturally inhabit'.

Commenting on the train driver's reaction to the flying-machine Emett wrote: ‘It is merely the natural reaction of the hitherto long-standing lord of the valley to the new, modern influence'.

In 1978 Emett made an offset lithograph reproducing the scene shown in T03940 in an edition of 650. It was published by Chichester House Gallery.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.144-5


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