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Gunner F. J. Mears (c.1890-1930)
Flying onions, looking towards Messines ridge,
Signed (upside down*), "Gnr FJ Mears BEF", 
Inscribed with title to old backing board,
Watercolour with silver paint and bodycolour,
10 x 14 inches

George C Clackner Gallery, 20 Old Bond St, London

*A consistent feature of Mear's work is his upside-down signature; his response to a world that he believed had been turned on its head.


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This scene depicts the artillery bombardment of Messines ridge which F J Mears would have been involved with as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery.


The Battle of Messines Ridge is widely considered to be one of the most significant operational successes of WWI. The objective was to secure Messines Ridge, a natural stronghold south-east of Ypres. It was orchestrated by General Herbert Plumer in command of the Second Army. The preparations alone took 18 months involving the  laying of 22 mine shafts beneath German lines all along the ridge. The offensive began on 21 May 1917 with the heavy artillery bombardment of enemy lines involving 2300 guns and 300 heavy mortars. This was a precursor to the detonation of the explosives in the mind-shafts at 03:10 on 7 June 1917 which had the most devastating and horrific impact; 10,000 Germans were killed by the blast and the sound could apparently be heard in Dublin - the largest man-made explosion of the time. It ripped open the German defence, allowing infantry and tank divisions to secure the position. 

Source: Michael Duffy, The Battle of Messines, 1917,, where a more extensive account of the battle can be found.

The scant detail relating to Gunner F. J. Mear's life is made self-evident from the outset by the reduction of his forenames to initials, even after all this time. It has been established that he fought in WWI as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and that he was discharged due to injury or ill health in 1917.


His re-emergence as an artist can be traced to a review in the Nottingham Journal of 1920 of an exhibition at the George C. Clackner Gallery, 20 Old Bond Street, London with the strap line, "SOLDIER’S PICTURES BOUGHT BY DUKES AND DUCHESSES". Among the collectors of his work at the time were Lady Astor and the Duchess of Norfolk; the success of such exhibitions saved him from destitution.


Examples of his work are held by the Imperial War Museum. An exhibition at the The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow entitled, Brushes with War, features several works by Mears.

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