"British Columbia is heaven. It trembles within me and pains me with its wonder. As when a child, I first awoke to the song of the 'Earth at Home'." Frederick H. Varley, in a letter to a friend

Frederick Horsman Varley was born in Sheffield, England, in 1881. He studied at the Sheffield School of Art from 1892-1900, then at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, from 1900-1902. Following Arthur (another Sheffield native) Lismer's advice, Varley immigrated to Canada in 1912. He was hired as a commercial illustrator at the Grip Ltd. design firm in Toronto where he met Tom Thomson and Frank Carmichael.


In 1918, Varley was commissioned by the Canadian War Records to illustrate the war in Europe, where he produced some of the most moving canvases of World War I. In 1920, he became a founding member of the Group of Seven. Varley did not share the Group's enthusiasm for the Ontario landscape and he painted mostly portraits and figure studies, many of which feature people within a landscape. In 1926, he moved to Vancouver to teach at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now the Emily Carr College of Art and Design). The landscape of British Columbia had a profound effect on his life and art - during the next ten years he painted hundreds of landscapes in oil and watercolour. In 1933, he and J.W.G. MacDonald opened their own school, the BC College of Arts, that closed after only two years.


Varley left Vancouver in 1937, ending an important chapter in his life. He moved to Ottawa and tried to resume his career as a portraitist. During the following years he drifted between Ottawa and Montreal. In 1938, he travelled to the Arctic on the government supply ship Nascopie. In 1944, he returned to Toronto and from 1948-49, taught at the Doon Summer School of Fine Arts near Kitchener, ON. In 1954, he travelled to the Soviet Union with a group of Canadian artists, writers and musicians. In 1955, Varley made a sketching trip to Cape Breton and in 1957 the first of many painting trips to British Columbia.


Varley died in Toronto in 1969 at the age of 88.

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