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Fredrick Horsman Varley
(1881-1969)

Back to Realism / Naturalism

Introduction
Carmichael Harris Jackson Johnston Lismer
MacDonald Varley Casson FitzGerald Holgate
Tom Thomson

Born in Sheffield, England, Varley was the son of a commercial artist and illustrator. He studied at the Sheffield School of Art from 1896 to 1899 and at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) in Antwerp, Belgium from 1900 to 1902. In 1912 Varley moved to Toronto, Ontario, at the invitation of Arthur Lismer, another Sheffield native. In Toronto he worked as a commercial artist. In the fall of 1914 Varley painted with Lismer and landscapists Tom Thomson and A. Y. Jackson. 

Canada 1981. Group of Seven. Realism/Naturalism. Fredrick H. Varley. Self-portrait.

In 1918 and 1919 Varley painted war scenes in France and England for the Canadian War Memorials, a private agency that commissioned art works commemorating Canada’s contributions to the war effort. 

Paintings such as The Sunken Road (1919, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario) are unique in Canadian World War I art in that they are realistic paintings that question war’s purpose.  In 1920 Varley and several other artists formed the Group of Seven and began exhibiting their work together. 

In 1926 Varley moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to teach at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design). In 1933 Varley and painter Jock Macdonald opened the British Columbia College of Arts. However, they had to close it two years later for lack of funds. 

Although the Group of Seven concentrated on landscapes, Varley painted mostly portraits and figure studies, many of which feature people within a landscape. He was involved with the group more out of mutual respect than because of shared ideals. Varley’s portraits from the early 1920s reflect his admiration for the American painter James Whistler and the English painter Augustus John.  

Canada 1994. Group of Seven. Realism/Naturalism. Fredrick H. Varley. Vera. Canada 1995. Group of Seven. Realism/Naturalism. Fredrick H. Varley.Open Window.

By the early 1930s, Varley had begun using color to symbolize spiritual states. Varley was something of a mystic, and Dhârâna (1932, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto), features a woman in joyous communion with nature. Many of Varley’s later works consisted of richly colored and textured pure landscapes, the best being those he painted in oil and watercolor in British Columbia and in the Arctic. 

Introduction
Carmichael Harris Jackson Johnston Lismer
MacDonald Varley Casson FitzGerald Holgate
Tom Thomson

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