William Gear

The Scottish painter known for his abstract compositions, William Gear, was born in 1915. The son of coal miner Porteous Gear (1881–1965) and Janet (1886–1955), Gear was born in Methil, south-east Fife, Scotland. He received the Dux Arts Medal while attending Buckhaven High School (1932). Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Margaret Mellis were some of his classmates while he attended Edinburgh College of Art from 1932 to 1936.

His postgraduate education (1936–37) comprised history of art studies with Professor David Talbot Rice at the University of Edinburgh, and he debuted in the art world in 1934 with the Royal Scottish Academy and Society of Scottish Artists.

Gear travelled to France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, and Turkey between 1937 and 1938 thanks to a travel scholarship. This journey involved a stint in Paris where I studied under Fernand Léger. He met Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde in 1938 while attending summer school in Arbroath. He participated in an exhibition with the New Era Group in Edinburgh in 1939 due to a brief interest in surrealism.

Gear was enlisted in the military in 1940 and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1941. He served with the Royal Corps of Signals throughout World War II. On his way to his first assignment in the Middle East, he saw Merlyn Evans in Durban. Later, Gear served in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Cyprus before taking part in the Allied invasion of Italy, where he exhibited his first solo exhibitions in Siena and Florence in 1944. After VE Day, he was employed by the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives department (MFAA) of the Allied Control Commission, where he oversaw safeguarding artwork in Lower Saxony, which was part of the British Zone of the German territories that had been seized after World War II. He also promoted regional performers, such as Karl, who were through wartime hardships during his travels through Europe.

Gear resided and worked in Paris between 1947 and 1950, where he encountered Eduardo Paolozzi, Alan Davie, Stephen Gilbert, and many of the most prominent post-war artists in the city, including Atlan, Da Silva, Dubuffet, and Zadkine. He visited Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Peter Lanyon, and Bryan Winter in St. Ives in 1948 and presented his first solo shows in Paris and London. He joined and participated in exhibitions with the North European avant-garde CoBrA art collective in 1949 in Amsterdam after meeting Appel, Constant, Corneille, and Jorn. In addition, he married Charlotte Chertok (1920–88), an American citizen, and co-exhibited with Jackson Pollock in New York during that year. David was also born during that year.

William Gear immigrated to England with his family in 1950 to Loosley Row, Buckinghamshire. A public uproar resulted from the painting commissioned by the Arts Council titled ‘Autumn Landscape’ receiving a Festival of Britain purchasing prize in 1951. His son Robert was born the same year after a subsequent transfer to the adjacent Speen Farm in Flowers Bottom, Buckinghamshire.

Early Spring and March Landscape, two prominent paintings by Gear from the same year, both include abstract organic shapes in vivid blues and greens. After his passing, ‘Early Spring’ stayed with his Estate and was still part of Gear’s collection.

His work has become more expensive since his passing in 1997. For instance, the highest bid for Gear at auction in 1998 was $53,372 USD, which was achieved at Bonhams New Bond Street in 2008. Before making a comeback in 2015 with multiple exhibits, particularly with the Towner Gallery, where he served as curator and acquired a total of 311 works that had a profoundly good effect on the gallery, referring to Gear as: ‘the painter Britain forgot’.

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MEDIUM Yearly lots sold Sell-through rate Sale price Price over estimate
Painting 30 76.6% £412k 8%
Sculpture 15 83.6% £331k 2%
Print 96 88.8% £27k 50%
Photography 14 84.3% £15k 72%
Work on Paper 10 83.7% £17k 89%


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