Born in London, Pearce studied at Sass's Academy and the Royal Academy Schools; he was also a pupil of the portrait painter, Sir Martin Archer Shee. As well as portraits, he specialised in painting horses, including animals from the Queen's Mews. He exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy. His sitters in the 1850s included members of the Arctic expeditions organised in search of Sir John Franklin, who had set out to find the Northwest Passage in 1845 and never returned. Pearce's most ambitious work is his group portrait 'The Arctic Council discussing the plan of search for Sir John Franklin', painted in 1851 (National Portrait Gallery, London).