Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Frederick Horsman Varley (1881-1969)

Canadian painter and a founding member of the Group of Seven. As Varley and Arthur Lismer were schoolmates, the early history of their lives is very similar. Like Lismer, Varley was born in Sheffield, studied at the Sheffield School of Art and later, the Antwerp Academy, in Antwerp, Belgium. At Antwerp, Varley had a reputation of being a heavy drinker and leading a rather bohemian life. From Antwerp, he returned to London, where he almost starved trying to support himself as an illustrator. Four years later, on his return to Yorkshire, he married and fathered two children. In 1912, Lismer once again met up with Varley - who this time was depressed and struggling to support his family. Lismer persuaded him to come to Canada, where he found work at Grip.

In Toronto, Varley soon became friendly with the other artists at Grip. He was often a difficult person to get along with because of his temperamental moods and rather unconventional ways. He did however find a close friend in Tom Thomson, who was like him in spirit. They went on weekend excursions, but rarely sketched together, as Varley preferred people to trees for subject matter.

At first, Varley concentrated mainly on portraits and established himself as a painter of Toronto's elite society. Although this brought him much needed income, he disliked painting to order, and his ways soon upset his clients. At one sitting with Vincent Massey, magnate of the Massey-Harris fortunes, the client arrived an hour late. Once he had taken his seat, Varley put down his brushes and walked away saying "You wait there. Now I'm going out for an hour." Despite these disturbances, Varley was respected as a great painter, and when the World War One broke out, he was sent to France as a Canadian War Artist. At this point, he did very poignant work. Perhaps his most famous painting is entitled, For What?. He returned from the war matured both as an artist and as an individual. At this point, his interest in painting the Canadian north was awakened, and he began painting landscapes such as Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay. Varley's concern with the world of feelings and emotions was always relayed through his work.
Adapted from Canadian Government Group of Seven Web Site

Books from Alibris: Frederick Horsman Varley

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