Charles Pears was an English painter, born in Pontefract, Yorkshire, on 9th September 1873 and educated at East Hardwick and Pomfret College. Charles’ early inspiration came from his father, George William Pears, who was a competent amateur painter. Educated at East Hardwick College, he started his working life as an assistant in his father’s tailors shop. He found a useful source of extra pocket money by submitting some of his sketches to the local weekly paper, the Yorkshireman, but his breakthrough came when he entered and won a competition organised by the leading fine art magazine, The Studio.
He tended to specialise in marine scenes and was later appointed the first president of the Society of Naval Artists. Throughout his career he also worked as an illustrator, contributing to The Yellow Book, the Illustrated London News, Punch, The Graphic and other periodicals.
Pears was one of the talented collection of artists selected by Frank Pick to design posters for the Underground Group and London Transport (1913-36). As a designer of posters, his images for the London Metropolitan Railway (‘Southend’, 1915) and the Empire Marketing Board (‘The Empire Highway to India’, 1928) reached a wide audience.
During the Edwardian years Pears began to make a name for himself within the fine art world and exhibited at several galleries. Nine of his works were accepted by the Royal Academy. Other prominent institutions that exhibited his paintings were the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, where he was elected a member in 1913, the Fine Art Society, the New English Art Club and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour.
Sailing and the sea were to become lifetime passions and in 1910 Charles Pears wrote his first book on the subject titled From the Thames to the Seine. He followed this up in 1914 with From the Thames to the Netherlands. Although the 1914/18 war interrupted his burgeoning career, Pears’ maritime skills were put to good use as an official Admiralty War Artist. Several of his paintings from this period are held by the Imperial War Museum. He still found time for commercial work including some dramatic action pictures for The Illustrated London News.
On 4 March 1918, during the course of the Great War, Lord Beaverbrook was made Minister of Information. He rapidly expanded the number of artists in France. With Arnold Bennett, he established a British War Memorial Committee (BWMC). However, artists selected for the BWMC programme were given different instructions to those given to artists who had been sent to the Western Front previously. Artworks were ‘no longer considered primarily as a contribution to propaganda, they were now to be thought of chiefly as a record’. Pears was appointed official war artist to the Admiralty, with a commission in the Royal Marines.
The vast majority of the 93 pictures he painted featured the work of the Royal Navy. With the commencement of the Second World War, Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery, chaired the war Artists’ Advisory Committee, whose brief was ‘to draw up a list of artists qualified to record the war at home and abroad, to advise on the selection of artists on this list for war purposes and on the arrangements for their employment.
The purpose of the Committee was to organise exhibitions were organised in Britain and America, both to raise morale and promote Britain’s image abroad. It sought to produce a historical record of the war in all its aspects. There were three main categories: actions and events; documentary scenes of everyday life afloat and ashore and portraiture. In 1946 one third of the collection was allocated to the Imperial War Museum. The WAAC also sought to preserve a generation of British artists from being killed.
However, the artists themselves did not shirk the dangers of war and three artists, Eric Ravilious, Thomas Hennell and Albert Richards, were killed in the course of their work. Pears was once again engaged and one such work from that period was his The Jervis Bay Action (1940) in the National Maritime Museum, distinctive for its pinpoint, crystal-clear detail.
Just prior to the war he had founded the Royal Society of Marine Artists of which he became the first President. An award in his name is still given by the Society to this day: The Charles Pears Memorial Award.
Between September 1949 and January 1950, Charles Pears contributed a series of five articles to Artist magazine titled “On Marine Painting” These are most informative and apart from the valuable advice given to budding marine artists they also provide an insight into the method Pears used to create his atmospheric paintings. Among several illustrations that accompanied these articles are photographs of Pears in his studio and also a very fine picture of his own yacht “Wanderer”. He remained a lifelong admirer of Canaletto.
Having moved from London to St Mawes in Cornwall to be near the sea that he loved, Charles Pears died on 28 January 1958.
Books by Charles Pears
Men: Drawn and Rhymed About. London, Black & White Publishing Co, 1902.
Mr. Punch’s Book for Children. London, Punch Office, 1902.
Mr. Punch’s New Book for Children. London, Punch Office, 1903.
From the Thames to the Seine. London, Chatto & Windus, 1910.
From the Thames to the Netherlands. London, Chatto & Windus, 1914.
SouthCoast Cruising. London, Edward Arnold, 1931.
Yachting on the SunshineCoast. London, Southern Railway Company, 1932.
Going Foreign. London, Edward Arnold, 1933.
Imperial War Museum
National Maritime Museum