Frederick Horsman Varley

Fred Varley sitting in his studio, now the Markham Art Centre. He is sitting in front of a fireplace, holding a paint palette.

Fred Varley - Saturday, Dec 31, 1960. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada.

Frederick Horsman Varley, born January 2, 1881, in Sheffield, England, is commonly known as a founding member of the famed Group of Seven and as one of Canada’s foremost portrait painters. For the last twelve years of his life, Varley lived in Unionville Ontario with Kathleen and Donald McKay. Kathleen nurtured Varley’s later artistic career by setting up a studio for him in the basement of her ancestral home, now the McKay Art Centre located at 197 Main Street Unionville. After Varley’s death in 1969, Kathleen promised to donate her considerable collection of works by Varley and his contemporaries to Markham, to be housed in a gallery suitable for their display and preservation. That promise resulted in the building of the Varley Art Gallery of Markham, which opened in 1997.

Today, our permanent holdings contain close to 600 works by F. H. Varley, including oil and watercolour paintings, drawings, prints, and sketchbooks. Together, these works help illustrate the different types of works Varley created during the course of his career. From portraits to landscapes, the works reveal his evolving style: an individual mixture of solid classical training and of vivid modernist experimentation. Ultimately, they are the product of Varley’s lifelong commitment to art-making.

Discover some of our highlights below.

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