“They called themselves “The Group of Seven for their first exhibition on May 7, 1920. Reviewers were more descriptive. “The contents of “a drunkard’s stomach” said one. Critical opinion would change, however, and by the peak of their fame in the mid-fifties, reproductions of their paintings hung on classroom walls in every school in the country. Their works held pride of place in Canadian museums and every discussion of Canadian art inevitably acknowledged their importance to the evolution of a “national vision”.
So begins the article on the Group of Seven in the Canadian Encyclopedia online. Tom Thomson, although associated with the group in the minds of many Canadians, was not a member of the group. The original members included Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnson, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and F.H. Varley, the focus of this short article.
As a precocious eleven year old, Varley enrolled in the Sheffield School of Art, and between 1900 and 1902 he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp. He emigrated in 1912 to work as a commercial artist in Toronto. (GRIP) There he met the future members of the Group of Seven and painted in Algonquin Park in 1914 with Tom Thomson and others. In 1918-20 he served as a war artist in England and France, producing some of the most moving canvases of the war.
Varley was primarily a figure and portrait painter but, after 1926 when he moved to Vancouver to teach at the recently established Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts, landscape painting, in oil and watercolour, became his principal interest. Severely affected by the Depression in 1936, he left British Columbia for Ottawa, eventually moving to Montreal and then Toronto in 1944.
About five years ago, an artist friend of mine, and a great fan of the latter member of the Group of Seven, purchased an original 1940 landscape sketch by F.H. Varley at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto. My friend remembers how he felt when he met his hero in person at this gallery many years ago when he was a 16 year old with his own dream of being an artist.
The collector has decided to sell thIs sketch and I offered to let anyone who reads my blog know that a piece of iconic Canadian art is available for sale. The signature is clearly visible, and it is registered as part of the master artist’s inventory with the National Gallery of Canada. If you are interested, let me know and I can put you in touch. Most Group of Seven works are now in museums and galleries and few works are available to the ordinary collector. Don’t pass up this chance.