Artwork by Frederick Horsman Varley,  Sun and Wind, Georgian Bay, 1916 or 1920

Fred Varley
Sun and Wind, Georgian Bay, 1916 or 1920

oil on panel, mounted to plywood
signed lower right; titled and dated circa 1915 on the gallery and exhibition labels on the reverse; Varley Inventory Number 1068
12.25 x 16.25 ins ( 31.1 x 41.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $90,000.00$70,000.00 - $90,000.00

Price Realized $984,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Delbert Cummings
Mrs. D.A. Cummings, Brockville, 1954
Walter Stewart, Toronto, 1965
Wendy Stewart, Toronto, 1971
Roberts Gallery, Toronto
Acquired by the present Private Collection, August 1977
“Collector's Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to Musée du Québec, Quebec City; Vancouver Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, 14 May 1988‒7 May 1989, no. 75
“Varley: A Celebration”, Varley Art Gallery, Markham, 1997, no. 9
“The Group of Seven: Revelations and Changing Perceptions”, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario, 22 May‒20 September 2010
“Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, England; travelling to National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands, 19 October 2011‒28 October 2012, no. 50
“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 Collectors' Treasures II, Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Montreal, 24 October‒7 November 2020, no. 21
Helen Ball, ‘What Ontario Artists Have Achieved This Year’, “Toronto Daily News,” 10 March 1917
Hector Charlesworth, ‘Good Pictures at O.S.A. Exhibition’, “Saturday Night”, 24 March 1917, page 2
Dennis Reid, “The MacCallum Bequest of paintings by Tom Thomson and other Canadian painters & The Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Jackman Gift of the murals from the late Dr. MacCallum's cottage painted by some of the members of the Group of Seven, Ottawa”, 1969, page 21
Dennis Reid, “Tom Thomson: The Jack Pine”, Ottawa, 1975, page 22
Christopher Varley, “F.H. Varley: A Centennial Exhibition”, Edmonton, 1981, pages 54, 60‒63, 67
K. Janet Tenody, “F.H. Varley: Landscapes of the Vancouver Years”, (M.A. Thesis, Queen's University, Kingston, 1983), pages 5, 8 note 3
Dennis Reid, “Collector's Canada: Selections from a Toronto Private Collection”, Toronto, 1988, no. 75, page 69, reproduced page 69 as circa 1915
Maria Tippett, “Stormy Weather: F.H. Varley”, A Biography, Toronto, 1998, pages 74‒77, 333
David Silcox, “Group of Seven and Tom Thomson”, 2003 (and 2011), reproduced page 217, caption page 418 as circa 1915
Ian A.C. Dejardin, et al., “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven”, London, 2011, no. 50, reproduced page 119 as circa 1915
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, reproduced page 102, caption page 203 as 1916
Two windblown pines hold tenaciously to rocky, small islands in Georgian Bay, while the sun glistens on the water and clouds skip rapidly across the sky. Bare wood is visible behind the right tree and in the sky, enhancing the space and movement. This is an image well known to anyone familiar with the paintings of the Group of Seven and best exemplified by Arthur Lismer’s “A September Gale, Georgian Bay” and Fred Varley’s “Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay”, both in the National Gallery of Canada (acc. nos. 3360 & 1814).

Well before the formation of the Group of Seven in 1920, Georgian Bay was a principal site for the Toronto painters’ exploration of the Canadian landscape. Most of the artists were invited to the Bay by the ophthalmologist Dr. James MacCallum, a fellow member of Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club, who built a cottage at Go Home Bay on Georgian Bay in 1911. J.E.H. MacDonald and family visited in 1912, Arthur Lismer and family and A.Y. Jackson in 1913, and Tom Thomson in 1914. In the fall of 1915 MacCallum commissioned MacDonald, Thomson and Lismer to paint mural decorations for the cottage resulting in return visits in 1915 and in 1916 for their installation.

Fred Varley’s initial invitation to Georgian Bay is more difficult to determine. During his first decade in Toronto, Varley was principally known as a portrait painter. Prior to 1918 when he left for England as a war artist, he only exhibited two large landscapes, both incorporating figures. “The Hillside” of 1913 (private collection) was worked up from a watercolour he had painted in England before coming to Canada, and “Indian Summer” of 1915 (private collection), a portrait of his wife Maud in a Tom Thomson landscape, resulted from his sketching trip to Algonquin Park with Thomson, Lismer and Jackson in the fall of 1914. Yet Varley exhibited two canvases with the Ontario Society of Artists in March 1917, “Georgian Bay”, priced at $75.00 and “Squally Weather, Georgian Bay”, priced at $500.00, confirming a painting trip to Georgian Bay, probably in 1916. Reviews of the exhibition refer to Varley’s “two capital marine pieces, ... broadly painted and redolent of gusty air,” (”Saturday Night”), and “amazingly realistic pictures” (”Toronto Daily News”) but provide no clues as to the identity of the paintings.

“Sun and Wind, Georgian Bay” was included in the Varley Inventory prepared by the artist’s son, Peter Varley, where it was catalogued in 1971 as having been exhibited in Kingston c. 1916 and thus dating from circa 1915. “Sun and Wind, Georgian Bay” is the only Georgian Bay painting identified by Peter Varley as possibly arising from this trip in 1916, not 1915. It is signed lower right, in a somewhat awkward hand, F.H. Varley.

Dr. MacCallum acquired paintings from his artist guests both by gift and purchase, and the subsequent bequest of his collection to the National Gallery of Canada in 1944 included two Georgian Bay canvases by A.Y. Jackson, one by Arthur Lismer, four Georgian Bay sketches by J.E.H. MacDonald, eight Georgian Bay sketches by Tom Thomson but only one work by Fred Varley, an undated and untitled oil sketch, signed lower left by the artist, F. Horsman Varley, in a fine backhand script and titled by Gallery staff in 1946, “Wind and Sun” (National Gallery of Canada). Does this work date from 1916 or 1920 when Varley painted at Go Home Bay with Arthur Lismer?

Maria Tippett, following Janet Tenoday, highlighted the Georgian Bay canvases Varley exhibited in 1917 and she has argued that the $500.00 canvas is the same painting as “Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay’, traditionally dated to 1921, the year of its purchase by the National Gallery when it was merely titled Georgian Bay. The undated oil sketch for this canvas was acquired by the Kitchener Art Committee prior to May 1926 when it was exhibited as “Squally Weather, Georgian Bay”, the same title as the canvas exhibited in 1917. That sketch is signed lower right, in a fine elegant backhand, F.H. Varley, and on the verso is an evening sketch of water and small islands very similar to “Evening – Georgian Bay” illustrated by Christopher Varley in “F.H. Varley: A Centennial Exhibition” in 1981 (page 61) and dated by him circa 1920.

In the absence of other surely dated landscapes painted by Varley prior to 1918, it is impossible to confirm Maria Tippett’s thesis that the large canvas “Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay” dates from 1917 nor to confirm a date of 1916 to Sun and Wind, Georgian Bay, a vibrant and spacious light‒filled study of the sun and light in early autumn on Georgian Bay.

However, David Silcox astutely illustrated “Sun and Wind, Georgian Bay” with a Tom Thomson sketch, “Split Rock, Georgian Bay” in his study of the work of Thomson and the Group of Seven in 2003. Clearly, Fred Varley’s sketch of windblown pines on Georgian Bay owes much to Tom Thomson.

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.