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Frederick Varley

Frederick Horsman Varley

Frederick Varley was a member of the Canadian Group of Seven and a notable war artist.

Frederick Varley
Frederick Varley

Early years

Frederick Varley was born on January 2, 1881 in Sheffield, England. He studied art in Sheffield and attended Académie royale des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, where he worked on the docks. He immigrated to Canada in 1912 on the advice of another Sheffield native (and future Group of Seven member), Arthur Lismer, and found work at the Grip Ltd. design firm in Toronto, Ontario.

Painting career

War artist

Beginning in January 1918, he served in the First World War with C.W. Simpson, J.W. Beatty and Maurice Cullen. Varley came to the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, who arranged for him to be commissioned as an “official war artist.” He accompanied Canadian troops in the Hundred Days offensive from Amiens, France to Mons, Belgium. His paintings of combat are based on his experiences at the front. Although he had been enthusiastic to travel to France as a war artist, he became deeply disturbed by what he saw:

“We’d be healthier to forget [the war], and that we never can. We are forever tainted with its abortiveness and its cruel drama.”

Varley’s Some Day the People Will Return, shown at Burlington House in London and at the Canadian War Memorials Exhibition, is a large canvas depicting a war-ravaged cemetery, suggestive that even the dead cannot escape the destruction.

Group of Seven

Varley saw art as a spiritual vocation. His interest in the figure as well as landscape set him apart from other members of the Group of Seven, of which he was a founding member in 1920. One of Varley’s most famous works is Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay (1921), painted after a summer at Georgian Bay, yet he was primarily a figure and portrait painter.

After living in Ontario for a number of years, Varley moved to Vancouver, BC in 1926 where he became Head of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the School of Decorative and Applied Arts in Vancouver at the invitation of Charles Hepburn Scott. He remained in this position from 1926 until 1933. He left British Columbia in 1936 due to his experiences with depression, and two years later joined fellow artists on a trip to the Arctic in 1938. In 1954, along with a handful of artists including Eric Aldwinckle, he visited the Soviet Union on the first cultural exchange of the Cold War.

He died in Toronto in 1969 and was buried alongside other members of the Original Seven at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection grounds in Kleinburg, Ontario.

The artist’s job is to unlock fetters and release spirit, to tear to pieces and recreate so forcefully that… the imagination of the onlooker is awakened and completes within himself the work of art.

Further Reading

Read the full article on Wikipedia.

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