Fall 2016 - 4th Session Live auction
Lot # 251
Frederick Horsman Varley
ARCA G7 OSA 1881 - 1969 Canadian
Indians, Rice Lake, BC
oil on board
signed and on verso titled, dated 1935 on the Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc. label and stamped with the Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc. stamp
12 x 15 in 30.5 x 38.1cm
Roberts Gallery, Toronto
Kenneth G. Heffel Fine Art Inc., Vancouver
Peter and Joanne Brown Collection, Vancouver, acquired from the above in 1983
Christopher Varley, F.H. Varley: A Centennial Exhibition, Edmonton Art Gallery, 1981, pages 110, 115 and 116, reproduced page 126, and the related 1936 watercolour entitled Spring, Rice Lake, in the collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, reproduced page 126
Peter Varley, Frederick H. Varley, 1983, page 136
Maria Tippett, Stormy Weather: F.H. Varley, A Biography, 1998, page 206
Edmonton Art Gallery, F.H. Varley: A Centennial Exhibition, October 16 - December 6, 1981, traveling to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, catalogue #136
Group of Seven artist Frederick Varley moved to Vancouver in 1926 to teach at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts. He explored and painted the local mountains, from the North Shore to Garibaldi. In 1932, Varley and his muse Vera Weatherbie discovered Lynn Valley in North Vancouver, to which they made frequent sketching trips. They reached it by taking a steamer from downtown Vancouver across Burrard Inlet, then taking a streetcar to the end of the line, then walking up the hill to the Seymour Watershed (then the Vancouver Watershed Territory). They found a deserted fire ranger's cabin near Rice Lake, and it was there that Varley made the preliminary sketch for his masterwork Dhârâna, a transcendent portrait of Vera on the porch of the cabin with a backdrop of mountains.
In 1933, Varley and Jock Macdonald formed their own school, the British Columbia College of Arts. Its collapse in 1935 left Varley in challenging financial circumstances, but free to paint. During this time, Varley's relationship with the Lynn Valley area deepened. He first stayed in a summer cottage in the area, then moved to a studio/house close to Rice Lake. Christopher Varley wrote, “His house…was nestled on the slope of a hill, with a panoramic view of Lynn Peak and Mount Seymour from the windows of the second floor. Lynn Creek itself passed through a deep gorge within one hundred feet of the house, and was straddled by a bridge that marked the way to Rice Lake, one of Varley’s favourite painting spots.” Rice Lake is part of Lynn Canyon Park, connected to the Seymour Watershed, a wild landscape of deep woods and rushing water. Lynn Creek, icy cold from its mountain sources, churns through rocky channels and cliffs and gathers in whirling pools. Immersed in nature, Varley was content; as his son Peter Varley wrote, "He was broke but exceedingly happy, playing music, eating simple food, working in the early light." He was bursting with energy—playing piano late at night, painting at all hours. Maria Tippett writes that Varley's son Jim related that he "rose early one morning to find his father's bed empty. Varley had been up all night sketching Grouse Mountain in the moonlight."
The paintings he did of this area are outstanding; a master colourist, his watercolours are full of delicate colour tints and atmospheres, and in oil paintings such as this superb work, his rich palette vibrates with hues of blue and green. The rocky shores of the lake are depicted as the exposed bones of the landscape, their smooth surfaces a canvas for Varley's fluidly brushed-on pigments. During his time in British Columbia, Varley's palette had blossomed. He was well aware of colour theory, such as that of Albert H. Munsell, having taught it in his classes, but he was also aware of influences from many sources. Varley often used prismatic colour, such as the iridescent blue-greens and violets we see here. He balanced his cool tones with warm ones—touches of orange, pink and yellow. The hues of the rocks, from pale grey-mauve to gold and coral-brown, balance the deep tones of blue, plum and green in the background.
In this stunning oil, the mirror-image reflections in the still lake of the majestic mountain backdrop give a dreamy atmosphere to the work. The figures add much to the scene, either immersed in contemplation or, as one figure is, reaching out as if in supplication to its beauty. Varley was profoundly affected by his time on the West Coast, stating, "British Columbia is heaven...It trembles within me and pains me with its wonder as when a child I first awakened to the song of the earth at home." Indians, Rice Lake, BC is an exquisite painting from this important period in Varley's oeuvre, and it eloquently expresses Varley's sense of wonder at this mountaintop landscape.
This work is #198 in the Varley Inventory listing.
Estimate: $90,000 ~ $120,000 CAD
Sold For: $224,200.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)