Concept

Frederick Varley

Summary
Frederick Horsman Varley (January 2, 1881 – September 8, 1969) was a member of the Canadian Group of Seven. Varley was born in Sheffield, England, in 1881, the son of Lucy (Barstow) and Samuel James Smith Varley the 7th. He studied art in Sheffield and attended the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp (1900-1902), Belgium, while he worked on the docks. He immigrated 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, saying: 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 Burlington House in London and at the Canadian War Memorials Exhibition, is a large canvas depicting a war-ravaged cemetery, suggesting that even the dead cannot escape the destruction. In Varley's painting For What? (1918), a single gravedigger takes a rest from his labours, a cart full of bodies beside him. It is one of the few official Canadian First World War paintings that does not hide the reality of battlefield death in images of ruins, blasted trees, and battle detritus. In 1920, he was a founding member of the Group of Seven. He was the only original member of the Group of Seven to specialize in portraiture, but he also painted landscapes. Varley's major contribution to art is his work with the Group of Seven and his portraits.
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