Delville Wood* (1916)
GUNNER F.J. MEARS (1890-1929)
Watercolour; signed & titled lower right – upside down**
In period wood veneered Beidermeier frame with oil gilded sight
Very little is known of F. J. Mears, who served with the Royal Garrison Artillery in France and Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force (not even what his initials stand for), yet he remains the most important unofficial soldier artist of the First World War.
In an article published after the war, Mears noted that his watercolours tried to express the horror of warfare as experienced by a soldier in the trenches. Thirty of his works were exhibited at 20 Old Bond Street in London in May 1920, and among the buyers were Lady Astor, the Duchess of Norfolk and Lieutenant General Hubert Gough, commander of British Fifth Army. An article about the exhibition in the Daily News of 7 May 1920 bore the headlines ‘Art genius who paints in a garret. Lowly man’s pictures bought by aristocracy. Dukes as customers’, and the success of the exhibition is said to have saved Mears and his wife from abject poverty. It didn’t sustain him for long it seems.
Paintings by Gunner Mears are in the collections of the Imperial War Museum in London, the World War History and Art Museum in Alliance, Ohio, and elsewhere.
* Delville Wood was a tract of woodland, nearly 1 kilometre square, the western edge of which touched the village of Longueval in the Somme. From July 1919-August 1918, it witnessed a series of bloody battles during which the ground changed hands some eleven times. It is now the scene of Delville Wood Cemetery created after the Armistice.
**Gunner Mears trademark habit of signing his pictures with upside down writing is evident here. When asked why, he once answered: ‘It’s what we felt had happened to the world.’
Since 2011 the record price for this artist at auction is 3,327 USD for Nocturnal Battlefield with Soldiers Wearing Gasmasks sold at Keys Fine Art Auctioneers in 2012.