History of Frederick Varley
Frederick Horsman Varley, also known as Fred Varley (January 2, 1881 – September 8, 1969), was a member of the Canadian Group of Seven artists.
Varley was born in Sheffield, England. He studied art in Sheffield and in Belgium. He came 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.
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 the 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.
His and A.Y. Jackson's contribution in the war influenced work in the Group of Seven. They chose to paint Canadian wilderness that had been damaged by fire or harsh climates. Varley's major contribution to art is his work with the Group of Seven. He and Lawren Harris were the only members of the group to paint portraits.
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. In Markham, Ontario, the Varley Art Gallery is named after him, as is Fred Varley Drive, a two-lane residential street in Unionville.
His secure place in the art history of Canada is verified by the government's decision to reproduce his self-portrait as a 17-cent postage stamp.