I have been reading Lachlan Goudie's 'Story of Scottish Art' and reached the section of the book that deals with William Gear. I have written about Gear before, often referred to as 'the artist that Britain forgot', so no secret that he rates highly with me. What I didn't know about Gear was the fact that during his war service he had become one of the 'Monuments Men'. The officers of the Monuments and Fine Arts division were European and American historians, art experts and curators who were tasked with scouring war torn Europe to save and recover the masses of artworks, cultural and religious artifacts that had been stolen from all over occupied Europe and stock piled by the Nazis in secret locations. Many of these treasures were in danger of destruction by the defeated and retreating Nazis and the search to save them was often a race against the clock. The story of these men was turned into a highly entertaining and successful movie.
Billeted in a German castle with a horde of rescued art and artifacts Gear came across works by artists such as Klee and Kirchner which made a lasting impression upon him, also to make an impression was a visit to the nearby concentration camp of Bergen- Belson. His responses to this experience can be detected in many of the paintings produced in his early post war period. In Germany Gear came into contact with, and was able to help, many artists who had suffered under the Nazi regime. One of these artists was Karl Otto Gotz, who in time joined Cobra, an influential European art movement with which Gear was associated. Weeks before his death Gear received an award in Germany which recognised his work for ' democratic art and artistic freedom'. A citation which encapsulates his lifetime attitude to art and his own career.
I admired William Gear as an outstanding and innovative abstract painter, brilliant colourist, influential teacher and curator, but as with most men of this calibre there is usually a fascinating backstory.
AGED AND AWKWARD