Artwork by Frederick Horsman Varley,  Snow in the Mountains, Garibaldi Park

Fred Varley
Snow in the Mountains, Garibaldi Park

oil on panel
signed lower left; inscribed “Varley $60” and Varley Inventory No. 1293 on the reverse
12 x 15 ins ( 30.5 x 38.1 cms )

Auction Estimate: $60,000.00$40,000.00 - $60,000.00

Price Realized $144,000.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Acquired by the present Private Collection, 1989
Possibly “Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Native and Modern”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; travelling to the Art Gallery of Toronto; Art Association of Montreal, 3 December 1927‒22 April 1928, no. 84 as one of ten sketches by Varley
Possibly “Exhibition of Canadian Paintings by the Group of Seven and Etchings by Robert F. Logan”, Art Gallery of Toronto, 11‒26 February 1928, no. 63 as one of eight sketches
“Varley: a Celebration”, The Frederick Horsman Varley Art Gallery of Markham, Unionville, Ontario, 31 May‒10 August 1997, no. 18
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016
“Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, Dulwich Art Gallery; travelling to the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands; McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, 19 October 2011‒6 January 2013, no. 99
Augustus Bridle, ‘Group of Seven Display Their Annual Symbolisms’, “The Star” (Toronto), 8 February 1928
J.W.G. Macdonald, ‘Vancouver’ in “F. H. Varley: Paintings, 1915‒1954”, Toronto, 1954, pages 7‒8
Chris Varley, “F.H. Varley: A Centennial Exhibition”, Edmonton, 1981, pages 80‒88
Peter Varley, ‘Frederick H. Varley’, Toronto, 1983, pages 18 and 61
Robert Stacey, ‘The Fabric of All Things Celebrating F.H. Varley,’ in “Varley: a Celebration”, Unionville, 1997, page 9
Maria Tippett, “Stormy Weather: F.H. Varley, A Biography”, Toronto, 1998, pages 154‒155 and 166‒174
Ian C. Dejardin, “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, London, 2011, reproduced page 174
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, pages 86 and 203, reproduced page 104
After studies in Sheffield and Antwerp, Fred Varley joined his fellow Sheffield artist Arthur Lismer in Toronto in 1912. He worked briefly as a graphic designer at Grip Limited with Lismer and Tom Thomson and soon followed them to Rous & Mann. His employment left little time to paint but in September 1914 he painted in Algonquin Park with Thomson, Lismer and A.Y. Jackson. The resultant canvas depicted his wife Maud in a Tom Thomson landscape.

The war had a devastating effect on the Toronto graphic studios but in the spring of 1918 Varley received a commission, with the honorary rank of captain, to paint in England and France for the Canadian War Memorials. His paintings “For What?”, “The Sunken Road”, “Someday the People Will Return” and “German Prisoners” (all in the Canadian War Museum), are the most original Canadian war paintings produced under the program. In 1920 he became a charter member of the Group of Seven.

With the exception of his famous painting, “Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay” of 1921 (National Gallery of Canada), Varley was principally a painter of portraits and figures in landscapes during these years, not a landscape painter like the other members of the Group. In 1926 he was offered a job in the recently established School of Decorative and Applied Arts in Vancouver and moved there with his family that fall. He was entranced by the landscapes of British Columbia and in the summer of 1927 he painted in Garibaldi Park with fellow teacher Jock (J.W.G.) Macdonald. As Maria Tippett has documented, they travelled by steamer and train, then trekked twelve miles ascending 2500 feet to the Taylor Meadows above Garibaldi Lake. That summer they camped at 5100 feet in two feet of snow.

Macdonald later wrote: “Varley was mainly an outdoor artist during his ten years’ residence on the Pacific coast. Almost every weekend he painted in the mountains and in the summers in Garibaldi Park, that unbelievably beautiful virgin country, still unknown to tourists, where six‒thousand‒foot meadows are carpeted with wild flowers, the lakes are pure emerald, the glaciers are fractured with rose‒madder, turquoise‒blue and indigo crevasses, and the mountains are black, ochre and Egyptian red. ... The more he camped the more he became part of the earth, of day and night and the diversified weather.”

“Snow in the Mountains, Garibaldi Park” is probably the finest of all the sketches Varley painted that summer. The peaks, snow and glacier flow in a sensuous, lyrical rhythm. All is gentle movement and iridescent colour, rising from pink‒whites, to browns, greens and oranges, to mauve, pink and white snow to the blue sky with sweeping green clouds. Robert Stacey beautifully described the changes in Varley’s paintings. “Inevitably, as his brushwork loosened yet grew more muscular, his palette broadened through the rich chromatic range of the ‘Varley colours’ – iridescent green‒mauve, ‘Chinese’ gold, fireweed pink, gentian purple.”

Ten of Varley’s mountain sketches were included in the “Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art Native and Modern” at the National Gallery in Ottawa in December 1927. It is highly possible that “Snow in the Mountains, Garibaldi Park” was one of them but there
is no documentation on his submissions, nor are they seen in the installation photographs. However, four major canvases resultant from the summer’s work were included in the Group of Seven exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto in February 1928: “Early Morning,
Sphinx Mountain” (McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1972.11), “The Cloud” (Art Gallery of Ontario 69/27), “Red Rock and Snow” (Power Corporation of Canada, Montreal) and “Mimulus, Mist and Snow” (Museums London, 72.A.117), together with eight sketches, of which “Snow in the Mountains, Garibaldi Park” might have been one. Varley had worked at a feverish pace under the influence of the summer’s venture. Augustus Bridle wrote in the “Toronto Star”, “Varley ... still revels in hot colors, textural masses and gloomy forms, a mass of detail that might not be always topographical but is something you might grab or smell. He has five [sic] pictures. They are all nearly human.”

“Early Morning, Sphinx Mountain” is the closest to “Snow in the Mountains, Garibaldi Park”. Both are characterized by the swirling movement of the snow and slopes, painted in hot hues, ranging from the darker reds, browns and blues of the foreground to the paler turquoise, blues, yellows, oranges and pinks in the middle ground. In the canvas, the central peak and foreground water hold the molten flow in check contrasting with the more gentle lyricism of the sketch.

We extend our thanks to Charles Hill, Canadian art historian, former Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada and author of “The Group of Seven – Art for a Nation”, for his assistance in researching this artwork and for contributing the preceding essay.

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Frederick Horsman Varley
(1881 - 1969) Group of Seven, Canadian Group of Painters, ARCA

Born in Sheffield, England, Frederick Varley went to Antwerp as a young man to study art at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts and then returned to London, England to work as an illustrator. In 1912 he came to Toronto, Canada where he formed a friendship with Arthur Lismer. Lismer introduced Varley to fellow artists who spent their weekends painting outside of the city. They tried to convince Varley that the most challenging and inspiring subject matter was the Canadian Landscape. Varley, who was more interested in portraiture, took a while to warm to the lure of the landscape, which he eventually did. His best work, however, continued to be his portrait and figure work into which he incorporated the landscape.

In 1926 he accepted a teaching position at the Vancouver School of Art and stayed in British Columbia until 1936 when he returned to Eastern Canada to continue his career as an artist with some teaching to help his finances. Varley was an avid reader of philosophy, in particular the writings of Chinese writers. These writings, along with his own observations, influenced his approach to colour and subject matter. He felt "colour vibrations", as he expressed it, "emanating from the object portrayed". His personal use of colour became a trademark of his paintings and one that is still used by so many artists today, such was the lasting influence of his work.