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Frederick H. Varley

by Peter Varley

Frederick H. Varley is a coffee-table book with more than 100 colour plates of paintings and sketches by the renowned artist. Varley was a founding member of the Group of Seven and while he did paint landscapes with the group in the early 1920s, he later moved toward his real vocation: portraiture. This book would be exquisite if only Varley’s son, Peter, the author and main force for creating a compilation of the artist’s work, hadn’t felt the urge to include his own memoirs of his father. Varley Jr. is not a writer and his prose is stilted, rambling, and filled with chronological and logical holes. The details he offers of the Varley family do not give any insight into the artist’s work other than to say he lived meagerly and survived without wide public recognition. A one-time director of the National Gallery, Jean Sutherland Boggs, has written a prologue but offers only a cursory, and equally dull, sketch of the artist’s life and work. The proof of Varley’s talent is in the paintings. Skip the 75 pages of text, flip to the colour plates and Varley, the colourist, draftsman, and composer, comes to life.