Artwork by Frederick Horsman Varley,  Lynn Valley, B.C.

Fred Varley
Lynn Valley, B.C.

oil on canvas on board
signed lower left; signed and inscribed “B.C. Landscape” and Varley Inventory No. 53 on a label on the reverse
20 x 24 ins ( 50.8 x 61 cms )

Auction Estimate: $200,000.00$150,000.00 - $200,000.00

Price Realized $288,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

The Artist
Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 1954
Roy Cole, September 1954
Mr. & Mrs. Alan Manford, Toronto, circa 1968
Private Collection
“Varley: A Celebration”, Varley Art Gallery of Markham, 31 May‒10 August 1997, no. 25
“Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; travelling to National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; The Groninger Museum, Netherlands; McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, 19 October 2011‒28 October 2012
“Through the Looking Glass: F. H. Varley in British Columbia 1926-1936”, Varley Art Gallery of Markham, 31 January 2015‒10 January 2016
“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
Ian Dejardin et al., “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, London, 2011, reproduced page 177
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 103
F. H. Varley’s “Lynn Valley, B.C.” is a magnificent, fascinating painting, formed from a mixture of observation and imagination. Varley painted it of a beautiful vista he saw from a house he rented in 1932 on the banks of Lynn Creek in North Vancouver (today its address is 4395 Rice Lake Road), a house which formed an indelible image of happiness in his mind. The picture is dominated by the view from the building’s second storey windows. In the foreground at left is an acutely‒observed section of the bridge across Lynn Creek and beyond it, a pine which has grown upwards from the soil of the valley beyond the bridge; at right, are a birch trunk and pine tree. The middle ground encompasses a view of a mountain side on which forest growth leads to Lynn Peak in the distance. A deep, narrow canyon of water, turquoise in colour, winds upwards amidst rich pockets of colour‒green, blue, purple, orange which convey a jungle of mountain side and land.

Varley is telling us a complex story of a scene that for him once teemed with life but telling it as though it were a stage‒set for a play about Paradise. He told a reporter much later, “That was the happiest time.” In actuality, the house was unfinished and small; the mountain side logged-over. He may have planned to concoct the house as a setting for a love nest for a student, Vera Weatherbie, but perhaps she, like the scene before us, and her feeling for him was formed largely from Varley’s imagination, since he lived most of the time in the house alone. At any rate, Varley was inspired and created a number of watercolours based on the mountainside or the view from the second- storey windows, such as the nocturne Bridge Over Lynn Canyon (1932- 1935, Vancouver Art Gallery). In this watercolour, he added two lovers on the bridge, a man and a woman‒perhaps imagining them because in “Lynn Valley, B.C.”, they are lacking, his illusions perhaps over.

Varley painted few oil paintings in the house because he couldn’t always afford the expense of the medium but if he did them, he focused them usually on some detail of the scene before him as in “From the Studio, Lynn Valley” (circa 1935, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston), a view of a single tree. All of them share in his admiration for Chinese landscape painting, and the British painters William Turner and Samuel Palmer. From Chinese painting certainly, he had learned to love landscape featuring a grand mountain in the background looming over an idyllic scene of trees, small hills and water, from Turner, he had learned how to convey a scene with drama, from Samuel Palmer, how to record the close valued minutia of the mountainside. “Lynn Valley, B.C.” is a remarkable recreation of the full- scale view from the windows of the house of the mountainside beyond painted at a critical moment in Varley`s life.

He deemed it such a success and so meaningful to him that he kept it with him, only selling it in 1954. It is therefore of unique importance due to its theme, size, and medium‒and the effect it has of saying something profound about one man’s view of what constitutes Heaven on earth.

This work is #53 in the Varley Inventory listing and was dated by Peter Varley.

We extend our thanks to Joan Murray, Canadian art historian, for contributing the preceding essay. Joan would like to thank Christopher Varley, Paul Wildridge and the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives for their help with researching this artwork.

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Frederick Horsman Varley
(1881 - 1969) Group of Seven, 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.