1881 - 1969
"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."
(F.H. Varley, letter to his sisters Lili and Ethel, February 1936)
F.H. (Frederick Horsman) 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 (1920).
At the age of eleven, Varley enrolled in the Sheffield School of Art, and between 1900 and 1902 he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp. He emigrated in 1912 to work as a commercial artist in Toronto, following in the path of Arthur Lismer, also from Sheffield. There he met the future members of the Group of Seven and painted in Algonquin Park in 1914 with Tom Thomson and others. In 1918-20 he served as a war artist in England and France, producing some of the most moving canvases of the war.
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. In 1926 he moved to Vancouver to teach at the recently established Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts, and for the first time landscape painting, in oil and watercolour, became his principal interest. His attraction to Asian philosophies and Chinese painting and colour symbolism characterizes his paintings from this period. Severely affected by the Depression in 1936, he left British Columbia for Ottawa, eventually moving to Montreal and then Toronto in 1944. He travelled to the Arctic in 1938 and to the Soviet Union in 1954 with a group of other Canadian artists, writers, and musicians.
Courtesy the National Gallery of Canada
VARLEY, Frederick (Fred) Horsman
Born: 2 January 1881, Sheffield, England
Died: 8 September 1969, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Renowned landscape and portrait painter and founding member of the Group of Seven, Fred Varley was born in Sheffield, England. Varley's childhood interest in drawing led his father, who was a commercial lithographer and illustrator, to enrol him at the age of eleven in the Sheffield School of Art, thus ending Varley's academic studies and preparing him for a career as a commercial artist and designer. Over the seven years in the school, Varley acquired all the necessary certificates in drawing from life and the antique models, and in 1899, began his studies in painting.
In 1900, he entered the Académie Royale des Beaux-arts in Antwerp, Belgium, in the first year winning a second prize in drawing from nature, and in his second, first prize silver medals for painting and drawing from the human figure. While in Antwerp, he became acquainted with the work of the great Baroque Flemish masters such as Anthony Van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, and Peter Paul Rubens, and admired in particular Rubens' Descent from the Cross in the Antwerp Cathedral. He also began to take an interest in Buddhism during this period. Varley's memorable experiences in Antwerp led him to recommend it as a place of study for fellow Sheffield artist, Arthur Lismer in 1906, and the Canadian Franklin Carmichael in 1913.
In 1903, Varley moved to London and found work as a commercial illustrator for The Gentlewoman and The Sphere. During this time, he also became acquainted with the work of the British portrait painter Augustus John, and admired the painterly romanticism of J.M.W. Turner. By 1906, his ability in finding work as a commercial artist began to falter, and in 1908 he moved to Doncaster and worked as a railway clerk. Here he reacquainted with his Sheffield sweetheart, Maud Pinder, a schoolteacher, whom he married in 1910. They moved back to Sheffield, and Varley obtained employment as a layout man with the Yorkshire Post but making a living continued to be difficult. Encouraged by the stories from Arthur Lismer who worked for the commercial art firm Grip Limited in Canada, Varley, now the father of two children, decided to immigrate to Canada in July of 1912. Arriving in Toronto at the beginning of August, Varley was immediately offered a job with Grip, and shortly after, moved to Rous and Mann where he met Tom Thomson and other artists who would form the Group of Seven in 1920. Soon after, two of his small English landscape watercolours and two drawings were exhibited at the Canadian National Exhibition. Through Lismer, Varley met other artists, and in November, he joined the Arts and Letters Club where he encountered Lawren Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald. During the pre-war years, commercial work dominated his production and family responsibilities left him little time for painting. In a letter to his sister Ethel, he spoke of his ambition to paint figures in exterior settings adding, This is an outdoor country…there's a small party of us here…and we are all working towards one big end. We are endeavouring to knock out of us all the preconceived ideas, emptying ourselves of everything except that nature is here in all its greatness and we are here to gather it…
Finally in October 1914, with the financial assistance of Dr. James MacCallum, ophthalmologist and arts patron, Varley and Maud joined newly arrived Montreal artist A.Y.Jackson, Lismer and his wife, and Thomson for a month-long sketching trip in Algonquin Park. In contrast to the other members of this group, Varley saw himself more as a figure painter than a landscape painter and in Indian Summer, 1914-15, Varley depicted Maud standing in the sunshine amidst a grove of birches, fallen trees, and rocks, painted in a manner that hints at his awakening to the ruggedness of the Canadian countryside.
In the early years of the war, Varley continued to work at Rous and Mann, and pursued other free-lance activities. In February 1916, he had a solo exhibition at the Arts and Letters Club, and in the same year donated one work to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts to raise money for the Canadian Patriotic Fund. He also exhibited the portrait of Captain H.P. Langston at the Canadian National Exhibition.
In 1917, he did a variety of commercial work that included portrait drawings in the Canadian Courier, and portraits from photographs of the wartime heads of state, Robert Borden, David Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson. Employed by the Imperial Royal Flying Corps, he also drew a series of illustrations for their recruiting manual and supplied drawings to illustrate stories in the Canadian Magazine.
In February 1918, Varley was commissioned as a honorary captain to paint for the Canadian War Memorials Fund, replacing C.W. Jefferys who was unable to go abroad. Art historian Charles C. Hill: it is a credit to his fellow artists that Varley was proposed, for he had worked for the past five years as a commercial artist for Rous and Mann, had exhibited little, and had been elected to the Ontario Society of Artists only the previous year. The war would launch Varley's career. In March, Varley sailed to England with fellow war artists Maurice Cullen, J.W. Beatty, and Charles Simpson.
In June, after a few months of preliminary training, Varley was summoned to London, and assigned Studio #5, The Mall, to make portraits of four officers, three of whom had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Of these four, that of Lieutenant G. N. McKean, V.C., 1918, is particularly powerful - shell-shocked and solemn, he sits pensively in his uniform engulfed by the shadows of the red-brown background. Posted to France in September, Varley followed the advancing Allied armies as they pushed back the Germans, making emotionally charged pencil and watercolour sketches of the death, devastation and shell shorn landscapes that would be used later for paintings in the studio. In October, he wrote to Maud of the annihilation that surrounded him, You in Canada cannot realize at all what war is like…You must see the barren deserts war has made of once fertile country…see the turned up graves, see the dead on the field, freakishly mutilated…
Returning to London early November, Varley set to work on four major canvases. Some Day the People Will Return, a large canvas (182 x 228 cm), shows the horror and chaos of a shelled graveyard, upturned headstones, bones, rubble, barbed wire in sea of brown desolation. This was followed by a second large graveyard painting, For What?, 1918, a grim scene dominated by a cart of mutilated bodies, a pair of grave diggers, a field of mud and a wet gray sky. Exhibited at the Canadian War Memorials Exhibition in London in the early months of 1919, it resonated powerfully with the public and critics alike, and garnered Varley considerable praise from well-known British war artists, Augustus John and William Rothenstein.
In 1919, Varley returned to the Canadian battlefields of France. Travelling with Cyril H. Barraud, (a Canadian war artist whose portrait he painted), he spent about two months making more sketches of the ravaged countryside. Returning to London in May, he began work on two more large canvases that he would complete following his return to Canada on August 1st. Retaining his rank of captain, and posted to the First Central Ontario Regiment, Varley moved into Tom Thomson's old shack behind the Studio Building in Toronto, and resumed work on German Prisoners, 1919, and The Sunken Road, 1919. The latter shows the battered remains of a German gun crew heaped on a mound of rubble. Although the war subjects deeply disturbed him, Varley, hoped for a commission to paint a large mural from the Canadian War Memorials for an anticipated gallery of war art in Ottawa. When the project was cancelled, he sought work as a portraitist.
In his dramatically lit and vigorously brushed self-portrait of 1919, Varley exuded the energy and determination of his passionate nature, aptly described by Arthur Lismer, A man with a ruddy mop of hair…which burned like a smouldering torch on top…that colour was the symbol of a fire in his soul. Gypsy Head, and Gypsy Blood, also of the same period, with their earthy red-brown colours and powerful compositions similarly reveal the romantic Varley attracted to the bohemian lifestyles alluded to by his subjects.
In March 1920, Varley attended a meeting at the home of Lawren Harris to discuss an exhibition that would include the work of Franklin Carmichael, Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Varley. In May, Varley participated with these artists in the first Group of Seven exhibition that opened at the Art Gallery of Toronto. Varley exhibited twelve works - six small sketches, two landscapes, The Sunken Road, and four portraits including one of Vincent Massey. In the late summer, Varley painted at Dr. MacCallum's cottage on Georgian Bay with Arthur Lismer at which time he made a series sketches that would later culminate in the iconic canvas, Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay, 1920-21. Exhibited in the second Group of Seven exhibition, it was a resounding critical success and was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada. Writing in the Star, August Bridle praised Varley's smashing epic in bravura style, an audacious attempt to express the power of a gale on a foreground tree, a vast uneasy stretch of multi-coloured lake and a dazzling mineralogical sky.
Throughout the 1920s, Varley continued to exhibit with the Group of Seven and to increase his reputation as a portraitist. However, his expressive style and strong personality were not a ready fit with the conservative tastes of Toronto society, and nor was Varley adept at promoting his talents. As art historian Maria Tippett reports, The majority of Varley's commissions came to him through the Arts and Letters Club. Among the university professors, businessmen, and critics whom he met there, none was more supportive than Barker Fairley. Fairley commissioned portraits of himself and his wife, and as a professor of German at the University of Toronto, his academic contacts led to commissions for Varley from Dean James Cappon, the Dean of Arts at Queens' University (1919), as well as from other prominent academics in Winnipeg and Edmonton. In Toronto, the success of the Cappon portrait also prompted high profile commissions from Vincent Massey (1920), then secretary treasurer of the Massey-Harris farm implement company, and involved in the building of Hart House at the University of Toronto. Massey's pleasure with his own portrait led to portraits of his wife Alice Massey, his father Chester Massey, and Alice's father, Sir George Parkin. Between 1919 and 1926, Varley completed seventeen oil portrait commissions. Those made immediately after the war - such as the portrait of Margaret Fairley, 1921, tend to be bolder and more expressive in their use of colour and brushstroke, while in later works such as that of Alice Massey, 1924-25, the figure possess a sculptural solidity conveyed through gradually modulated colour and a more spatial, less gestural background.
In addition to the commissioned portraits, Varley also produced portraits of families and friends, from oil works of Maud and his eldest son John, to sensitive and powerful pencil, charcoal, and chalk sketches that capture their moods and personalities with acute empathy and insight. The sketches also chronicle the growing family's diminishing circumstances as Varley's inability to manage money led to increasing financial difficulties. To help make ends meet, Varley taught summer courses for the Ontario College of Art, Meadowvale, and from 1922 to 1923 assisted J.E.H. MacDonald in painting murals for St. Anne's Anglican Church in Toronto. In addition, he did illustrations for Ryerson Press that included the bookend papers for The Complete Poems of Tom McInnes, 1923 and Marjorie Pickthall's A Book of Remembrance, 1924. In 1924, through the assistance of W.J. Phillips, Varley obtained a portrait commission in Winnipeg in mid-January, and later went to Edmonton where two more commissions waited. From 1925 to 1926 Varley taught full-time at the Ontario College of Art and also gave private lessons at home.
Between 1922 and 1926, Varley's participation in the Group of Seven exhibitions contributed to the increasing appreciation of his work. In the third group show, 1922, and the Group of Seven's Western Tour that travelled to Edmonton, Varley's work was greatly admired. In the fourth Group show, 1925, Varley showed two small canvases and several drawings that garnered high praise from the reviewers. Writing in Saturday Night, Hector Charlesworth commented, The charcoal sketches on brown tinted paper by Mr. Varley are notable for ease and economy of effort, beauty of modelling and solidity of effect. In the Group exhibition of 1926, Varley exhibited commissioned portraits and family scenes such as Evening in Camp, 1923, a study of his wife and two children gathered by the firelight on a beach near a friend's cottage following their eviction from their Toronto home.
In July 1926, Varley accepted the position of a painting and drawing instructor at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts, arriving there with his reputation as an award winning portrait painter, celebrated landscape artist and influential teacher. In the words of J.W.G. (Jock) Macdonald who also taught at the school, Varley was a revolutionary…his tremendous power to inspire everyone established new directions in western [Canadian] painting. Varley's new directions were nurtured by his eclectic reading in the history of European modern art, Buddhism, Eastern spiritualism, and his admiration for Japanese woodcuts, Chinese calligraphy and other facets of Asian art. Writing in 1934 to H.O. McCurry, curator at the National Gallery of Canada, Varley reported, We flung off the common garb and revealed the vision of an international movement, drawing together from the East and West powerful forces of the art world…fusing the Occident with Orient into one vast activity. As art historian Megan Bice concurred, over the next ten years, his presence as an instructor, mentor and resident artist had enormous impact on the artistic life of the city.
In contrast to his focus on portraiture in the east, in Vancouver, Varley became an outdoor enthusiast, hiking in the mountains on the weekends, and in the summers exploring Garibaldi Park, Jericho Beach, Lynn Valley, and the snow covered mountain ranges. Writing later to a friend, he said, British Columbia is heaven. It trembles within me and pains me with its wonder… The sea is here, and the sky is as vast….I often feel that only the Chinese of the eleventh and twelfth century ever interpreted the spirit of such a country. We have not yet awakened to its nature.
In 1927, Varley moved to a house on Jericho Beach, with a broad view of the beach, the Straits, and the North Shore Mountains. Sketching in Garibaldi Park from mid July to late September with Jock Macdonald, Charles Scott and others, he began to abstract from nature and experiment with colours that echoed his emotional response to the magnificence of the environment. In canvases such as The Cloud, Red Mountain, c. 1928, the infinite sky is an area of dramatic tension as sun-edged clouds contrast with the deep cobalt blue sky that brightens as it meets the garnet red mountains. In other paintings such as Mimulus, Mist and Snow, 1927-28, a riot of colour, line, and shape throbs with the irrepressible vitality of nature.
In 1928, Varley continued to sketch along the North Shore Mountains and the Fraser River, and in 1929 he painted along the Cheakamus River and in the Garibaldi region with his son John, Jock Macdonald, and Ross Lort. In 1929, Varley also began to paint works based on the view from an upstairs window in his house on Jericho Beach. In The Open Window, 1933, earth, water and mountains are fused in a blue green mist that culminates in distant snow-covered peaks and a luminous sky.
In parallel to the expression of mystical feelings in his vibrant landscape paintings, Varley's approach to portraiture also evolved while living in Vancouver. Exploring the colour theories of Wilhelm Ostwald, and Albert Munsell, Varley devised a symbolic approach to colour, creating palettes specific to his various sitters. As Megan Bice elaborates, With photographer John Vanderpant, Varley also discussed theories regarding emotional equivalents of color and auras as presented by the theosophical treatise, Thought Forms….Varley later noted the importance of the relationship between 'colour vibrations, emanating from the object portrayed and the maze of light and colour already present about the object portrayed.
In 1929, Varley began a close relationship with his student Vera Weatherbie, who also occasionally modeled for him. In delicate pencil sketches and a series of oil portraits, Varley chronicled the passion and intensity of their relationship. In Vera, 1929, that was awarded the Willingdon Prize and later purchased by the National Gallery of Canada, a slightly earthy Vera in a striped shirt sits looking out with a cool expression, her auburn hair curling around her delicate facial features. In contrast, the 1931 portrait of a sultrier Vera - regarded by many as Varley's masterpiece - features a dominant palette of blues, greens, and mauves and acknowledges her aesthetic aura and influence on his creativity. In Dharana, 1932, a meditative Vera, painted in hues of blue and violet, looks upward, at one with nature, the light on her face as radiant as the distant mauve-green sky. In other portraits of this period, the formality and direct gaze of Harold Mortimer-Lamb, 1930, a mining engineer, journalist, and talented photographer, contrasts with the more intimate profile view of John Vanderpant, 1930, a close friend and acclaimed pictorial photographer, with whom Varley discussed theories of creativity.
Although now rooted in the west, Varley continued to exhibit with the Group of Seven and for the 1928 Group show sent fifteen oil sketches and four canvases that reflected his newfound enthusiasm for the west coast landscape. For the 1930 exhibition, the last year that he showed with the Group, Varley sent five figure studies including the 1929 portrait of Vera. In 1930, Varley also had a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Seattle, and taught there for six weeks during the summer.
The increasing deprivations of the early 1930s meant cuts to the arts, and in the spring of 1933, when the salaries of Varley and Macdonald were greatly reduced, they decided to resign from the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts. With the artist Harry Täuber, they founded the British Columbia College of the Arts, with Varley as president. Encouraged by Täuber's Varley experimented with fractured, cubist space. In works such as Complementaries, 1933, two female figures with geometrically facetted torsos create contrasts of material and ephemeral worlds.
In the summer of 1934, Varley and Macdonald painted with their students in the Garibaldi region. On Varley's home front, financial and marital problems resulted in the family's loss of their home on Point Grey Drive and the break-up of his marriage with Maud. Residing by the end of the year in a rented house above the Lynn River canyon, Varley painted views of the Seymour Mountains and surrounding lush forests where hikers climbed in the shadows of the immense green cedars. Working in watercolour and oil, swirling patterns of colour and line captured the frenzy of growth. While the subject matter for painting was abundant, the B.C. College of the Arts was financially in peril, and by the end of the of the spring term 1935, it was forced to close.
In 1936, Varley travelled east with a commission to paint the portrait of Harry S. Southam, the Chair of the Gallery's Board of Trustees. Following a brief visit to Vancouver, he returned penniless to Ottawa and worked in the studio provided by the Gallery for the Southam commission, and in the fall he taught at the Ottawa Art Association. During this time, he also began work on Liberation, 1936-37, a large canvas over two metres high on which he employed a vibrant palette of prismatic colours to paint a muscular resurrected Christ figure exiting from an angular tomb. According to the artist's grandson Christopher Varley, it is an original image of transcendence - an accounting of the artist's sense of social alienation and spirituality. Varley was excited about the work and submitted it to a jury at the Royal Academy in London where, to his great disappointment, it was rejected. Unable to afford to have it returned to Canada, it remained in England until 1975 when it was repatriated.
Varley spent Christmas 1936 with the Fairleys in Toronto, and Easter of 1937 with the painter Philip Surrey and his mother in Montreal. Following their animated reports of a recent trip to New York City, Varley returned to Ottawa and painted, Night Ferry, Vancouver, 1937, a view of a ferryboat retreating from the shores of a city whose skyline is an amalgam of Vancouver, New York and Seattle. On the deck of the ship a lone male figure is juxtaposed with a pair of lovers and alludes to Varley's own feelings of isolation. In the summer of 1937, he visited Vancouver, but unable to make ends meet, returned again in the fall to Ottawa and resumed teaching. In Mirror of Thought, 1937, Varley captures his pensive expression in a shaving mirror nailed to a cross-shaped window frame that reveals the view from his Lynn Valley studio and a pair of lovers on a bridge. Estranged from Vera and unable to live in the studio now occupied by Maud, it brilliantly chronicles Varley's increasing personal loneliness and uncertain future. Seeking escape and financial support, he applied to travel on a Government supply ship to the Arctic, and in July 1938, he received notice to sail on the Nascopie.
During the two and a half month journey, Varley worked excitedly producing sketches and watercolours of the frozen landscape, massive icebergs and local Inuit settlements. In letters south, he wrote elatedly of the icebergs, strange caves giving out in front of them the intense singing violet of space until the cave is as unreal as a dream and because of the blue, greens and violets of these bergs, the grey sky twins mauve and the sea deep purple and red. Most of the works produced on the Arctic trip were executed in watercolour, pencil and crayon, and a few oil paintings such as Arctic Landscape, 1940, echo the rich palette and other worldly beauty described in his letters.
Back in Ottawa in 1939 Varley painted the portrait of Alan Plaunt, an art collector and one of the original governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At the end of the spring term, he left the Ottawa Art Association and worked little in a year marked by the loss of Vanderpant to cancer and the onset of World War II.
In the summer of 1940, Varley spent three months in the summer home of Wing Commander C. J. Duncan and his wife near Trenton, on the Bay of Quinte; he made sketches of the rural landscape and also drew several portraits of Erica Leach, a friend of the Duncans. In early 1941, Varley moved to Montreal where an anonymous benefactor covered his expenses for six months, and although he continued to paint portraits of friends, he failed to attract much needed commissions. During this time he also worked on thirty-one illustrations for Stephen Leacock's book, Canada: The Foundations of its Future. Insolvent again, Varley sought an appointment as an official war artist, but was judged too old for overseas service. However in 1942, he received a commission to paint three portraits of Canadian soldiers in Kingston for use in advertising by the Federal Government. Still struggling financially, from 1943-44, he lived again with Commander Duncan and his wife in their home in Ottawa and painted watercolour landscapes.
In November 1944, Varley returned to Toronto to attend the opening of a solo exhibition at Eaton's Fine Art Galleries that was well received by Toronto critics. Writing in the Globe and Mail, Pearl McCarthy enthused, Varley is bigger now than he was than he was with Group of Seven, he is of today, and not yesterday. Although sales were slight, important works such as Night Ferry Vancouver, 1937, was purchased by the collector Charles S. Band, and Hart House acquired Open Window, 1932. The exhibition made such an impact that part of it was reassembled for exhibit at Hart House at the University of Toronto, in December.
Appreciated once again in Toronto, Varley decided to stay over the winter and lived initially with the artist Leonard Brooks and his wife, Reva. In addition to portrait drawings of friends and acquaintances, in 1945 he painted Self-Portrait Days 1943, where a fatigued Varley reflects on the frustrations that began with the failure of the British Columbia College of Arts and continued with the scarcity of prospects in his subsequent move east. Despite the air of despondency, Varley's vigorous brushwork and vibrant palette attests to his enduring resilience.
In 1946, Varley met Jess Crosby, a neighbour at his Grenville Street studio in Toronto, and the woman who would remain his companion and muse until 1951. Portraits of Jess executed during this period reveal her gentle disposition, and Varley's consummate skills in rendering the luminosity of skin and capturing the spirit of his sitter. In the summer of 1946 and in summers of 1948 and 1949, Varley taught at the Doon Summer School of Fine Arts, near Kitchener, Ontario, and produced a number of watercolours of the surrounding countryside.
During the 1950s, Varley's popular reputation increased as his stature as a historical figure grew and as numerous solo exhibitions kept his presence alive. From 1950 to 1951, he painted around Belfountain in the Credit River Valley where Jess Crosby had a country home.
In 1952, Varley met Kathleen Gormley McKay who approached the artist to make a portrait of her husband Donald, a retired chemist. Instead, Varley painted her, and in Studio Door, 1952-53, a smiling Kathleen, radiating life and energy, pauses in the doorway of Varley's studio. In the winter of 1952-53, Varley fell ill and was invited to live with the McKays in their Toronto residence. During his stay, Varley made drawings of Kathleen, as well as portraits of other friends and associates.
In April of 1954, Varley was invited to travel to the Soviet Union with a group of Canadian artists, writers and musicians, and in the same year the Art Gallery of Toronto organized a critically successful travelling exhibition with contributing essays by Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson, Jock Macdonald, Charles S. Band, and National Gallery of Canada curator Robert H. Hubbard. In the summer and autumn of 1955, Varley painted landscapes in and around Whycogomagh on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and in Quebec, always attended by Kathleen McKay in whose company and care he would remain until his death.
In 1957, Varley and the McKays moved into Kathleen's family home, Eckhardt House, in Unionville, north of Toronto, setting up a studio for Varley in the basement overlooking the back garden. In the summer, he embarked with Kathleen on the first of several summer painting trips to the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Despite his waning energy, he continued to paint both landscapes and portraits, and his work continued to be celebrated in solo exhibitions. In 1961, he received a honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba, and in 1963, the City of Toronto's highest honour, the Civic Award of Merit. In 1964, he was awarded the Canada Council medal for 1963. Varley continued to paint until 1967, and died in 1969 at the age of 88.
Since his death, Varley's art and life has continued to be a rich resource for study and celebration. In 1981, the artist's grandson Christopher Varley organized the travelling exhibition A Centennial Exhibition: F. H. Varley, and Self-Portrait of Days 1943 was reproduced on a Canada Post stamp to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Group of Seven. In 1994, Vera, 1930, was also reproduced on a stamp as part of the Masterpieces of Canadian Art series. In 1997, the Frederick Horsman Varley Art Gallery of Markham, whose Varley collection is based on a bequest from Kathleen McKay, opened its doors. In 1998, Maria Tippett, published Stormy Weather: F.H. Varley, a Biography, and in 2007, Katerina Atanassova, organized the travelling exhibition F.H. Varley: Portraits into the Light, that travelled across the country with stops in Fredericton, Edmonton, Kelowna, and Ottawa.
Selected Public Collections
Edmonton, AB, Edmonton Art Gallery
Fredericton, NB, Beaverbrook Art Gallery
Kingston, ON, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University
Kleinburg, ON, McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Markham, ON, Frederick Horsman Varley Art Gallery
Montreal, QC, McCord Museum of Canadian History
Montreal, QC, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Ottawa, ON, Canadian War Museum
Ottawa, ON, National Archives of Canada
Ottawa, ON, National Gallery of Canada
Toronto, ON, Art Gallery of Ontario
Vancouver, BC, Vancouver Art Gallery
Victoria, BC, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
Winnipeg, MB, Winnipeg Art Gallery
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1916, 1919, Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, ON
1924, 1940, 1943, Art Association of Montreal, Montreal, QC
1930, Seattle Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA
1932, 1955, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC
1944, Hart House, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
1954, F. H. Varley: Paintings, 1915-1954, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, QC; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON
1960, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Kitchener, ON
1964, F.H. Varley Retrospective, Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, ON
1965, Exhibition of Portraits, Hart House, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
1974, Varley: The Middle Years, Burnaby Art Gallery, Burnaby, BC
1981, A Centennial Exhibition: F. H. Varley, Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton, AB
1983, Selections from the Sobey Collections: Part II: Lawren Harris, F. H. Varley and Franklin Carmichael, Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax, NS
1999, Visions of Paradise: Varley in British Columbia, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC
2007, F. H. Varley: Portraits into the Light, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, NB; Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, AB; Kelowna Art Gallery, Kelowna, BC, Portrait Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON.
1912, Arts and Letters Club
1916, Ontario Society of Artists
1921-39, Associate Member, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts
Canadian Group of Painters
Compiled March 2008
A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada