Battleships in Action WW1
Charles Pears (1873-1958). Oil on panel with Charles Pears' mongram (lower left) and dated 1915 (lower right). Provenance: Liss Llewellyn Fine Art.
5 1/2 x 17 ins (14 x 44 cms) approx
Price on Application
That this is a Charles Pears oil on panel is not in doubt: he signed himself "CP" many times in his early career, invariably in red, and the style and prominence of the date are all characteristic of his work. The long thin landscape format too was a favourite of his for maritime subjects, especially during the WW1 period. Also beyond question is that we are looking at a battleship of the Revenge Class in action, at least one other capital ship is in company astern and the force is escorted by destroyers: all are under accurate and large calibre gunfire.
What is in doubt, though, is the event that Pears has painted. At first glance this is Jutland: a sultry sky as a result of North Sea murk and voluminous quantities of cordite smoke, a low sea state (although greatly churned up by the myriad warships racing hither and thither through it!), R class battleships wearing red ensigns at the fore as an additional aid to recognition (the German naval ensign being easily mistaken for the British naval ensign), a wealth of escorting destroyers all trying to keep up with the capital ships - it is pure Jutland as we have come to know it through the many paintings with which we are familiar today. But Jutland was in May 1916 and this painting is clearly dated by the artist 1915: so on that basis that would seem to rule out that battle. And there's another twist: no Revenge class battleship was in commission in 1915 and it wasn't until February 1916 when the first to complete, REVENGE herself, commissioned from builder's and sea trials into the 1st Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. We can only conclude therefore that either Pears somehow added an incorrect year to his painting or that this was a scene that he composed from imagination.
Although he was a commissioned officer in the Royal Marines Pears also seemed to manage time to be an official war artist. True, this may have given him a bit of a headstart when it came to knowing how the Revenges were going to look when they first completed in early 1916. Earlier sea battles of the war such as Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank would have given him images of a modern naval battle that he could draw on. But the draftmanship of the battleship is uncannily accurate for a forecast of what she might have looked like when buiding was compelete and the scene painted so reminiscent of the many we have seen of Jutland that it does make it very likely that this is indeed the late afternoon of the 31st May 1916, Jutland.
Artists painted a lot of Jutland scenes as they were good sellers and this scene is so typical of the many of Jutland by acclaimed marine artists such as WL Wyllie, Langmaid, Dixon; and perhaps most significant of all, two Revenge class battleships were actually involved in that action, HMS REVENGE and HMS ROYAL OAK. Further, it is certainly not unknown for busy artists to put incompleted works to one side before finishing them and this period, after all, was during all-consuming wartime and Pears was an officer in the Royal Marines - two good reasons why he would have had no time to himself. The likelihood that this picture was then completed post 1916 - or even post war - is high and he may well have just added the year (the wrong year as it turned out) as an afterthought.