William Gear



Not on display

William Gear 1915–1997
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1003 × 819 mm
frame: 1046 × 862 × 51 mm
Purchased 1961


Interior is an abstract oil painting on canvas by the Scottish artist William Gear. The rectangular pictorial field has a vertical orientation and is divided into a number of facets of colour, which are contained within an armature of black painted lines. The muted browns and greys on the left two-thirds of the canvas are punctuated by a number of red and orange triangular patches and thrown into relief by the presence of a group of vivid yellow patches running down the length of the right-hand edge of the canvas. The juxtaposition and layering of shapes and colours in the centre of the image create a sense of depth and movement, while a vortex of grey, white and yellow draws the eye to the bottom left of the canvas. On the back of the canvas is inscribed ‘Gear Interieur Aout 1949’. The work is related to two other paintings with the same title made in the same year (reproduced in McEwan 2003, pp.41–2).

Interior was painted in August 1949 at Gear’s Paris studio at 13 Quai des Grands Augustins on the banks of the Seine. This was his studio from 1947 to 1950, during which time he joined the CoBrA Group after meeting Karel Appel, Constant Nieuwenhuys, Guillaume Corneille and Asger Jorn. Founded in 1948, CoBrA was an experimental art movement concerned with the free use of colour and form in painting. Socially and politically active, its members often referenced the art of children. CoBrA was significant for the development of tachisme and European, as opposed to American, abstract expressionism. Gear noted that, at this time, he was ‘gravitating to abstraction and … there was always a link with nature … I don’t say nature in the naturalistic sense but of observable forms’ (quoted in Sidey 1995, p.37). Interior is therefore not a depiction of a particular interior. Rather, it is abstracted from nature, the structural relationships between the facets of colour creating a sense of depth and movement.

The year the work was made, 1949, was the year that Gear’s work was shown alongside that of Jackson Pollock at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. Gear was, at that time, unfamiliar with Pollock’s work, identifying instead with the artists of the CoBrA Group. The critic Andrew Lambirth has described his painting style during this period, which included debts to tachisme, a spontaneous, non-geometric form of abstraction that emerged in Europe in the 1940s:

Reaching maturity among the lyrical abstract painters of the Ecole de Paris, he was strongly influenced by Tachism, with its emphasis on the grid as a useful structure to explore landscape. He developed a style of painting that depended upon colour applied in small patches connected by a network. Passages grab and hold the attention sequentially, moving the eye around the painting, and thus diverting concentration from a single all-over view.
(Lambirth 2015, p.4.)

Interior is a good example of this early style. In 1949 Gear also participated in three CoBrA exhibitions: Exposition International d’Art at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; De Experimentele Groep in Holland at Kunstzaal van Lier in Amsterdam; and the Høst Group exhibition in Copenhagen and Aarus. Despite Gear’s European credentials, he also claimed influences much closer to home. Historian Peter Shield notes that Gear ‘cited the structure of the Forth Bridge and the pitheads and dark woods of his Scottish youth, as well as war-blasted landscapes, as formative’ (quoted in McEwan 2003, p.39).

Interior was first shown at Gimpel Fils, London, in November 1949.

Further reading
‘William Gear Interviewed by Tessa Sidey’, National Sound Archive, British Library, London 1995, http://sounds.bl.uk/related-content/TRANSCRIPTS/021T-C0466X0033XX-ZZZZA0.pdf, accessed 13 April 2016.
John McEwan, William Gear, Aldershot 2003.
Andrew Lambirth, William Gear: A Centenary Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Redfern Gallery, London 2015.

Beth Williamson
April 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

After active service in the Second World War, the Scottish artist William Gear moved to Paris in 1947. There he came into contact with Constant who invited him to contribute to the 1949 CoBrA exhibition in Amsterdam. Interior is a transitional work from that period. The strong colour and simplified forms recall Gear’s earlier, freely-handled works. At the same time, the exaggerated outlines anticipate his development of a more controlled abstraction.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T00405 INTERIOR 1949
Inscr. ‘Gear’ 49' b.c. and on back of canvas ‘Gear Intérieur Aôut 1949’.
Canvas, 39 1/2×32 1/4 (100×82).
Purchased at Gimpel Fils (Knapping Fund) 1961.
Exh: William Johnstone, Jean Lurçat, William Gear, Gimpel Fils, November 1949 (63); Gimpel Fils, February 1961 (13).

The artist wrote (23 February 1961) that the ‘Interior, August 1949’ (T00405) was painted at his studio in Paris, 13 Quai des Grands Augustins: ‘This painting comes in a transitional phase of my development at that time, breaking away from a more austere cubist-abstract period. It contains elements which were later developed in various ways e.g. a kinship with sculpture, a constructed presence, a feature in a setting (see “Feature in Landscape”, 1960). Similarly the structural grid holding facets of colour which have an ambiguous spatial interplay is here apparent. The work has a kinship with other paintings of this period such as “Interior, July 1949” 35"×45 3/4", Collection Gimpel Fils and “Interior” August 1949, 35"×45 3/4", Collection Toronto Art Gallery, Canada.’

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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