Frederick Horsman Varley R.C.A.
titled and signed with artist’s address to verso
Varley Inventory no. 13, label to verso
Roberts Gallery, Toronto;
McCready Galleries Inc., Toronto;
Frederick Varley’s whimsical and imaginative work Snow People depicts a group of what we assume are children, playing in a forest heavily encrusted with snow. It is possible that these figures include his son John, and that this work was painted in British Columbia, where he moved in 1924 and where John accompanied his father on a number of sketching trips. Other works known to be of John approximate the age and stature of the figure with his back to us, hiding behind a snow-covered tree. This is speculation though, not proven by any fact. The only facts we do have are that this is a joyous work, with rich swirls of delicious colour, and a sense of pure delight in this winter wonderland of snow. Almost abstract, the trees take the form of crouching angels, and the figures hiding amoung them are caught in a magical, marvelous, dream-like, white world.
Varley was indeed a virtuoso colourist, his works often seem to contain an inner glow, sometimes golden – as we see in his portrait of his son John, sometimes green – as with his portrait of Vera from 1930, or red, as with his Gypsy Head from 1919. (All these works, National Gallery of Canada). Here, in this exuberant scene, the inner glow is white, emanating from a surreal forest of swirling colour and winter form.