Sunday, August 23, 2015

Frederick Varley

German Prisoners on the Western Front
oil on canvas
127.4 x 183.7 cm
Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
As an official Canadian war artist, he painted many scenes on the Western Front. Here, German prisoners walk along a rocky road past rows of dead trees, debris, and bodies.

Frederick Horsman Varley (1881-1969), born in Sheffield, England, was a member of the Canadian Group of Seven artists. Of all the members of The Group of Seven, he was the most reckless in his life and personality. His moves to various parts of the country seemed predicated on the hope that life would be more fulfilling in a new environment. Not solely interested in landscape, he was fascinated with the human form, whether as a portrait, a facial study, or a figure in the landscape, and he has a lasting reputation as both a landscapist and a portrait artist.

He studied at the Sheffield School of Art and at the Antwerp Academy, in Antwerp, Belgium. In Antwerp, he 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. He immigrated to Canada in 1912 on the advice of another Sheffield native (and future Group of Seven member), and found work at the Grip Ltd. design firm in Toronto, Ontario.

Beginning in January 1918, he served in the First World War. He 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. In 1920, he was a founding member of the Group of Seven.

He moved to Vancouver, BC after a few years in Ontario and became the head of Department of Drawing and Painting at the School of Decorative and Applied Arts in Vancouver from 1926 to 1933. He was deeply influenced by the beauty of British Columbia, and it had a great effect on his art. The scenery that he found in British Columbia took him on an emotional journey which changed the way he painted and expanded his palette. This helped to make him an incredible teacher, and influenced many local artists.

With the Depression came about a reduction in salary at the school and he left in protest. Later on he decided to leave to B.C. and moved to Montreal where he suffered from alcoholism for many years. Finally he got over his depression and returned to Ontario and began focusing on his painting again. He enjoyed visiting unique places and remote locations, and as such traveled to places in the Arctic and Russia to paint landscapes.

He was known for painting landscapes. He painted people in green, pink, or purple. His contribution in the war influenced work in the Group of Seven. He chose to paint Canadian wilderness that had been damaged by fire or harsh climates. In 1954, along with a handful of artists, he visited the Soviet Union on the first cultural exchange of the Cold War.