Celebrating 100 Years of the Group of Seven - Frederick Varley

Posted by Tom Thomson Art Gallery | Aug 13, 2020
Thank you to our guest blogger, the Staff at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery (The Tom), for sharing these stories.

We are pleased to present the third installment in this series of guest posts celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven. Stay tuned over the next several weeks as each member of the Group of Seven is featured.  


On May 7, 1920, seven Canadian artists held their first exhibition as the Group of Seven at the then Art Gallery of Toronto, now the Art Gallery of Ontario. One hundred years later their names - Carmichael, Harris, Jackson, Johnston, Lismer, MacDonald, Varley - continue to conjure visions of the rugged Canadian landscape. They were bound by their desire to record the Canadian geography in a new and distinctive way. They shunned prevailing European painting conventions and honed a fresh style that has become uniquely recognizable, capturing the character of the true north, strong and free.

Featured Artist:  Frederick Horsman Varley


F. H. VARLEY, Tree Patterns, Kootenay Lake, date unknown, oil on canvas board. Bequest from the Douglas M. Duncan Collection, 1970.
Frederick Varley studied art in Sheffield, England and, like Arthur Lismer, attended the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. Unable to find full-time employment, Varley immigrated to Toronto in 1912 on the advice of Lismer and found work at the engraving firm, Grip Limited. Varley soon met Tom Thomson and other artists who met regularly at the Arts and Letters Club. Thomson became a good friend and they often travelled together, including a painting trip to Algonquin Park in 1914. In 1918-20 he served as a war artist in England and France, producing some of the most moving paintings of the war. He was deeply disturbed at what he saw and suffered depression at times throughout his life. Varley saw art as a spiritual vocation and his interest in the figure set him apart from all other members of the Group of Seven. Varley preferred to paint portraits, but did eventually start painting landscapes and became a founding member of the Group.    
F. H. VARLEY, Summer Evening, around 1925, oil on wood panel. Gift of the Estate of Jennings David Young, 1999.

Varley moved to Vancouver in 1926 where he became Head of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the School of Decorative and Applied Arts until 1933. Between 1926 and 1936 he painted hundreds of landscapes in oil and watercolour. These landscapes were characterized by his use of bold colour, fine draftsmanship, and unusual vantage points. He left British Columbia in 1936, and two years later joined fellow artists on a painting trip to the Arctic. In 1954, he visited the Soviet Union on the first cultural exchange of the Cold War. 
Fun Fact:  Varley’s good friend Arthur Lismer wittily explained Varley’s relationship with the Group of Seven by saying that Varley could not “be blamed for anything they did.”1
  1. Newlands, Anne The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. Toronto: Firefly Books, 1995, 30.

The TOM's Group of Seven Exhibit

Galleries across the nation will be featuring the finest from their collections from the Group. Here at The TOM we will be showcasing the Gallery’s impressive collection, in a new exhibition, "The View from Here", that will take visitors on a visual tour across the country as experienced by the Group. Beyond the captivating artworks, our accompanying texts will explore the unique connections between the members of the Group and Owen Sound, the legacy of community donors, and the importance of the Gallery’s collection within the larger Group of Seven story. The View from Here will offer an intimate, local perspective on the artists that helped shape the Nation.  The exhibition runs until January 29, 2021.

The Tom Thomson Art Gallery Is Now Open to the Public

In order to protect the health of visitors and staff, a limited number of visitors will be permitted inside the Gallery to 10 people at a time, to allow for physical distancing. This new visitor limit may also mean that when you visit the Gallery you may be asked to wait in line. Additionally, to accommodate new cleaning and health precautions, the Gallery will be reopening with limited hours – Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm - 4pm. Please remember to be patient with staff during this time, as new protocols are being implemented to ensure the safety of everyone.
Note: All visitors are required to wear face coverings (masks) in indoor spaces, including The TOM.
An easy way to remember The TOM’s new attendance limit is “Bring Your Groups of Seven”. Throughout their time the members of the Group changed but their number always stayed below 10, so call your Carmichael, Harris, Jackson, Johnston, Lismer, MacDonald, and Varley and tell them you’re going to The TOM!

For more information about The TOM, visit their website.

Read other blog posts in the series about the Group of Seven: