Frederick Horsman Varley was one of the most famous painters out of the Group of Seven. He loved to paint the landscape of the beautiful country we live in. He also enjoyed the portrait style of art. He was one of Canada’s most distinguished portrait painters. Frederick Varley was born on January 2nd, 1881 in Sheffield, England. He studied art in his home town for the first 31 years of his life at the Sheffield School of Art in 1892-1900 and then at the Academie royale des beaux-arts in Antwerp, Belgium in 1900-1902.
He found God in nature and became a very spiritual person. Varley tried to start a career as an illustrator and art teacher in England, but unfortunately was unsuccessful in doing so. He then moved to Ontario, Canada and met up with one of his old friends. This is how Varley started his dream career as an illustrator at Grip Ltd. There he met Tom Thompson and Frank Carmichael. He got married in 1908 and began painting the landscape of Northern Ontario with the two men he met. He believed in addressing the landscape directly.
He moved beyond immediate representations of landscape to pictures that expressed his spiritual journey. His compositions have romantic vitality and a sense of rebirth. Varley had adjusted and expanded his work. A war had broken out in Europe and Frederick was commissioned by the Canadian War Records to illustrate the war. He also served in the war while painting the destruction that had occurred. Four large war scenes were acclaimed. He was accompanied by Canadian troops in the Hundred Days offensive from Amiens, France to Mons, Belgium.
Varley’s words about the war described what the members of the Group of Seven felt. “[war] forever tainted [us] with its abortiveness and its cruel drama. ” Varley was deeply disturbed by the war. The war paintings had brought him to the forefront painters in Canada. He no longer wanted to paint Ontario landscapes, but wanted to precede his career in painting portraits. Frederick Varley and Lawren Harris began painting portraits together. He moved to British Columbia and began teaching at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts in 1926.
He was the head of drawing, painting, and compositions. He painted the mountains and lush vegetation that grew there. For the next 10 years, he had painted hundreds of landscapes. In 1933, he founded his own school called the AB College of Arts. This led him to bankruptcy in 1935. Varley’s marriage began to fall apart in 1938. He moved to Ottawa to continue his portraitist career alone. He struggled with alcoholism in Montreal. After this, he devoted himself primarily to portraits for many years. His portraits were favorably compared to Augustus John.
His paintings reflected his interest in Eastern philosophy. He was known as “the gypsy” of the Group of Seven. Frederick Varley had made the most beautiful pieces of artwork. He did so for many years of his life. Varley had financial dismay once again. In 1945, he returned back to Toronto where he lived his last days. Varley passed away on September 8th, 1969. His paintings are now hung in every major museum all across Canada, including the National Gallery of Ottawa, where they will be admired for many years to come.