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This summer Pontefract Museum hoped to welcome you to our exhibition celebrating the travel posters of renowned Pontefract-born artist, Charles Pears. Sadly, due to Covid-19 the exhibition has been delayed. We hope to be able to bring you the show in 2021, but in the meantime we've gathered some of our favourite works from UK collections to celebrate Pears' distinguished career as a celebrated marine and naval specialist and a prolific commercial artist.


Charles Pears was born in 1873. He began to develop his artistic talent whilst growing up in Pontefract. As a young man, he moved to London, where he began his career as a cartoonist and illustrator, before establishing a reputation as an eminent poster artist and oil painter.

14 artworks
  • As a keen yachtsman, Pears applied his knowledge of the sea to his marine work. He and his wife owned boats and both wrote about sailing. Titles by Pears included From the Thames to the Seine, and Yachting on the Sunshine Coast, a guidebook for Southern Railway.

    Moonlight Barque
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Oil on canvas
    H 102 x W 127 cm
    The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery)
    Moonlight Barque
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery)

  • Pears was painting during a golden age for ocean travel when luxurious liners, kitted out as 'floating palaces', ruled the waves. The Cunard Line's Queen Mary transported passengers across the Atlantic to New York in style. As a commercial artist, Pears also produced poster artwork for shipping companies like Cunard and Orient.

    The Passenger Liner 'Queen Mary' Arriving at Southampton, 27 March 1936 c.1936
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Oil on canvas
    H 101.6 x W 127 cm
    National Maritime Museum
    The Passenger Liner 'Queen Mary' Arriving at Southampton, 27 March 1936
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: National Maritime Museum

  • From 1939 - 1957 Charles Pears was the first president of the Royal Society of Marine Artists. After his death in 1958, the society founded the annual Charles Pears memorial prize, awarded for outstanding work by non-members.

    The Needles, Isle of Wight
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Oil on canvas
    H 38 x W 59.5 cm
    Gallery Oldham
    The Needles, Isle of Wight
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: Gallery Oldham

  • Pears' talent for depicting the sea saw him appointed an Official Naval War Artist in both World Wars. Several of his wartime works were exhibited at the Royal Academy.

    Southern Railway Steamers as Hospital Ships Awaiting the Wounded at Dunkirk during World War II c.1939–1945
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Oil on canvas
    H 79.8 x W 113 cm
    National Railway Museum

  • It was between the wars that Pears enjoyed his most prolific period as a commercial artist, particularly producing artwork for travel posters. In the interwar years, many people enjoyed increased leisure time and disposable income, and began treating themselves to day-trips and holidays, often at the beach. Pears, of course, was the perfect painter to advertise the seaside, as this vibrant image of fashionable bathing belles enjoying the waves at Southend demonstrates.


    London Underground’s publicity department added text and logos beneath Pears’ evocative image to complete the striking poster.

    Southend-on-Sea Bathing Buoy 1934
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Lithograph on paper
    H 120 x W 100 cm
    Southend Museums Service
    Southend-on-Sea Bathing Buoy
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: Southend Museums Service

  • Until the Second World War, London Underground offered special excursion services to Southend from Ealing Broadway. Londoners eager to escape the city were enticed by Pears’ artwork.


    He was commissioned as many as 14 times for Southend poster designs, from local landmarks, to boating scenes and water sport enthusiasts making a splash…

    Southend, Crowstone Light 1929
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Lithograph
    H 120 x W 100 cm
    Southend Museums Service
    Southend, Crowstone Light
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: Southend Museums Service

  • … to fashionable crowds on bustling beaches and packed piers.

    Southend Pier 1930
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Lithograph on paper
    H 120 x W 100 cm
    Southend Museums Service
    Southend Pier
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: Southend Museums Service

  • In the 1920s, when the newly formed ‘Big Four’ rail companies began to follow London Underground’s lead in working with celebrated artists, Pears was in demand with their advertising departments too. In this design for Great Western Railway, he turns his hand to the bright lights of the city.

    London 1932
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Oil on canvas
    H 101.8 x W 64.2 cm
    National Railway Museum

  • But he returned to the coast with this tranquil marinescape for British Rail.

    Isle of Man: Peel Castle 1949
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Oil on canvas
    H 101.8 x W 63.7 cm
    National Railway Museum

  • As well as the now iconic travel poster, Charles Pears also produced designs for Empire Marketing Board publicity campaigns as part of their mission to promote trade within the Empire.


    They commissioned top artists to design ‘Scenes of Production’ that showed Britons how their food was being grown by fellow citizens of the Empire all over the world. The posters were part of a propaganda effort that presented an idealised depiction of the Empire, such as in this idyllic looking Canadian orchard.

    Apples and Honey from Canadian Orchards
    Charles Pears (1873–1958) and John Waddington Ltd (active 1905–1940) and Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO)
    Lithograph on paper
    H 102 x W 152.5 cm
    Manchester Art Gallery
    Apples and Honey from Canadian Orchards
    Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

  • ‘Scenes of Marketing’ meanwhile celebrated the export of British goods around the world. The following Pears designs are from the Empire’s Highway to India series.

    Gibraltar
    Charles Pears (1873–1958) and Johnson, Riddle and Co. Ltd (active c.1927–1945) and Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO)
    Lithograph on paper
    H 102 x W 152.5 cm
    Manchester Art Gallery
    Gibraltar
    Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

  • Before hitting the billboards, an example of the artwork from the series was previewed in an Empire Marketing Board exhibition at the Royal Academy in November 1926. The campaign was launched early the following year.

    The Suez Canal
    Charles Pears (1873–1958) and Waterlow and Sons Ltd (active 1810–1960s) and Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO)
    Lithograph on paper
    H 102 x W 152.5 cm
    Manchester Art Gallery
    The Suez Canal
    Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

  • Series like this one consisted of five posters to be displayed in prominent public positions in specially designed frames, allowing for three landscapes and two portrait letterpress posters. An example of the frame was also demonstrated at the Royal Academy show.

    Bombay 1928
    Charles Pears (1873–1958) and Johnson, Riddle and Co. Ltd (active c.1927–1945) and Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO)
    Lithograph on paper
    H 102 x W 152.5 cm
    Manchester Art Gallery
    Bombay
    Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

  • Having enjoyed a succesful commercial career and been celebrated as a marine specialist, Pears eventually semi-retired to St Mawes in Cornwall. He died in Truro in 1958.


    His self-portrait, painted in later life, combines his twin passions. He uses his preferred medium of oil paint to depict himself in his natural habitat as a sailor at sea.

    Self Portrait 1944–1946
    Charles Pears (1873–1958)
    Oil on canvas
    H 61.5 x W 51 cm
    Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
    Self Portrait
    © the artist's estate. Photo credit: Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum