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A visit to Frederick Varley

The Story

Frederick Varley is unique among the members of the Group of Seven. He's celebrated for his skill as a painter of portraits rather than the moody landscapes that typify the Group's output. In this excerpt from the CBC TV series Other Voices, Varley discusses his approach to painting friends and commissioned portraits. Artist John Nichols pays him a visit and learns that Varley refuses to paint someone if they're too beautiful. 

Medium: Television
Program: Other Voices
Broadcast Date: April 20, 1965
Guest(s): Frederick Varley
Host: Allan Wargon
Duration: 4:18
Photo: Varley artworks, copyright 2003, Estate of Kathleen G. McKay.

Did You know?

• Born in 1881 in Sheffield, England, Frederick Horsman Varley immigrated to Canada in 1912. He first worked at Grip Limited and quickly switched to Rous & Mann, but met other Group members at the Arts & Letters Club.
• Varley worked for the War Records office in the First World War, painting such works as For What?, which depicted soldiers' bodies heaped on a cart. He also travelled to France in 1919 to sketch the war's aftermath.

• Broken apart by the war, the painters in the Group weren't reunited in Toronto until late 1919. After some small exhibitions of Algoma sketches, including the first showing outside Toronto, in Belleville, they organized their first show under the name “Group of Seven.”
• In a 1964 interview, Arthur Lismer recalled a meeting in which the group tried to find a name. “Well, count them,” he said. “One-two-three-four-five-six-seven. There's the name of your group, the Group of Seven.”

• In 1924, Varley travelled to Winnipeg and Edmonton to work on portraits that had been commissioned by prominent local citizens. He hoped to drum up more such commissions and took a side trip to Calgary to see the Rockies.
• Two years later, he moved west to work at the Vancouver School of Art as head of the department of painting and drawing.

• In the latter years of his life until his death in 1969, Varley lived with Kathleen and Donald MacKay in Unionville, Ontario. The MacKay house was later donated to the town and became an art centre. It is located across the street from the Frederick Horsman Varley Art Gallery.
• When this clip was broadcast, a new housing development called Varley Village was under construction in Unionville.

• Varley was married in England in 1908 and brought his wife and two children with him when he moved to Canada.
• Varley died in 1969 at age 88. He is buried in the cemetery at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.


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