Born in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania in June of 1910, John Brock Lear Jr was an American artist best known for his figurative and landscape works. He attended the Chestnut Hill Academy, an all-male college preparatory school in Greater Philadelphia, where he showed an early talent in art. Inspired by two uncles who were painters, Lear studied at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, now the University of the Arts, under Thornton Oakley, a protege of illustrator Howard Pyle.
John Lear Jr’s work as an artist was centered on freelance illustration and creating paintings and drawings for exhibition. In 1931, he traveled to England for the first time and became drawn to the country’s landscapes. Lear continued his visits to England over the course of his life and, through memories and photos, created many striking landscapes in oils. He always referred to these works as ‘records’, the natural world captured with an artist’s eye.
Lear also produced what he described as ‘creations’, dreamlike landscapes, surrealistic or symbolic in content, composed of realistic and yet disparate images. Composition and color were the major emphasis in these works which he considered closer to rendering rather than painterly in quality. Lear’s creations were not dystopian but often whimsical and brightly colored. Central to most of these dreamlike landscapes are male figures rendered in a style that shows influences by mid-century artists such as George Tooker and Paul Cadmus.
During World War II, John Lear Jr served in the Army’s calvary division at Fort Reilly in Kansas. Recognized for his artistic talent, he was employed to illustrate Army training manuals, booklets and charts. During his service period, Lear also painted several portraits of generals and officers. Though he did not experience the horrors of war overseas, the destruction of life caused by that war influenced aspects of Lear’s surrealist work. After his military discharge, Lear returned to Chestnut Hill where he remained for the duration of his life. As an educator, he taught illustration at Pennsylvania’s Rosemont College and was an instructor at both Philadelphia’s Hussian School of Art and the University of the Arts.
A longtime associate of the many art organizations in the Philadelphia area, Lear never married and passed away at the age of ninety-eight in September of 2008 in Glenside, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Doylestown Cemetery in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
John B. Lear Jr exhibited his work in numerous solo and group exhibitions. His work appeared in many shows at Philadelphia’s Hahn Gallery, known for its national and international contemporary work, and the Woodmere Art Museum, which houses a collection of Lear’s work. Other permanent collections of Lear’s work can be found in the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center, and the Reading Public Museum, among others. In addition to public collections, Lear’s work is in many private collections in the United States and abroad.
Top Insert Image: John Brock Lear Jr, “Male Figure Study with Roman Helmet”, 1983, Graphite on Wove Paper, 31.8 x 22,2 cm, Private Collection
Second Insert Image: John Brock Lear Jr, “Landscape with Figures”, circa 1960, Watercolor, 64.8 x 45.7 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: John Brock Lear Jr, “Construction”, Date Unknown, Graphite on Wove Paper, Private Collection