F.H. Varley

Hikers, Lynn Peak 1935,

oil on board
15 x 12 in

A rare double-sided oil sketch.

Private collection, Calgary

With mounting success and artistic momentum, the predominantly eastern-based Group of Seven increasingly explored westward into the Rocky Mountains and beyond. In 1926, F.H. Varley went further west to become Head of Drawing, Painting and Composition at the recently established Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts. With an aim at income stability, the move ultimately had a momentous effect on Varley's artistic development and personal happiness. Varley thought that painting "mountains might be easier to sell." It turns out the mountains were an easy sell to Varley's creativity.

A hiking trip into Garibaldi Park in 1927 resulted in Varley's first major canvases of BC Mountains. Also in 1927, Varley met painting student Vera Weatherbie. Vera became his constant companion and a favourite sitter in his paintings. Together they ventured into the rugged country in search of nature and art. Varley later described Vera as "the greatest single influence in my life." His first portrait of Vera won the Willingdon Art Competition at the National Gallery in 1929. In 1930 he evocatively painted Vera in varying green hues to represent her "spiritual nature." In 1932 Varley paints the masterpiece Dharana. Dharana depicts an enchanted Vera gazing towards heaven on the porch of their Lynn Valley cabin.

Varley and Vera fell in love with Lynn Valley, a mountainous terrain just north of the city. In 1932 they set up in an abandoned fire ranger's cabin. Complete with roofed porch, the cabin overlooked the valley and mountains. It became their base to sketch, paint, and explore the valley and peaks. Lynn Peak towered over the valley to the North and offered Varley perfect forms and surrounding themes to paint. An old forest fire left branchless trees below, as seen in the horizontal double-sided sketch. Plant growth also features with the Peak beyond in the vertical Hiker's, Lynn Peak. The Lynn Valley years are considered to be Varley's "happiest and most productive." His style noticeably evolves here with confident exploration of forms and mastery of colour theory. A long-standing interest in Buddhism led Varley to look towards 11th-century Chinese painting for his mountain subjects.

The double-sided oil sketches of Hiker's, Lynn Peak offer all of the masterful elements of Varley's Lynn Valley Period. The horizontal oil shows Varley's recurrent interest in the sloping forms of the surrounding mountains, as well as his interest in the barren, fire-destroyed trees below. The mountains perfectly illustrate Varley's masterful use of colour. The vertical oil depicts Varley's beloved Lynn Peak itself, with hikers exploring exactly as he and Vera would do. In the greenery against the rocks we see characteristic brushstrokes with hints of abstraction and bold textures. More than any other group member, Varley was not afraid to include his distinctive figures in his painting. These works are perfectly reminiscent of this important time in Varley's career.

Source: Varley by Peter Varley, Key Porter Books, 1983. edits by Jill Turner