F.H. Varley: Portraits into the Light

Curated by Katerina Atanassova, of the Varley Art Gallery
March 8 to April 27, 2008

This exhibition sets out to change a common impression about this revered Group-of-Seven artist, who was actually known in his lifetime more for his portraits than his work in landscape. Pushed aside by the strength of the mythology around the Group’s engagement with the empty, northern wilderness, Varley’s relationships and interest in people is now intended to come “into the light.” The Kelowna Art Gallery is pleased and proud to be one of several stops across Canada for this major exhibition of seventy works. Also on display will be a film on the artist, as well as his easel, palette and paint kit.

Varley had a ten-year sojourn in Vancouver from the mid 1920s to the mid 1930s, during his middle age. He was hired to teach at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (which eventually became today’s Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design). It was here that he fell in love with one of his students, Vera Weatherbie, whose portrait we will see in the exhibition. Varley also was friendly with a woman who later came to live in Kelowna, Erica Leach, daughter of Kelowna artist Grace Willis. Three works by Varley of Erica Leach will also be on view.

Curated by Katerina Atanassova, who is curator at the Varley Art Gallery in Markham, Ontario, this show is accompanied by a full-scale trade book as the catalogue to the exhibition. In the text, Atanassova sets Varley’s career as a portraitist in the context of his time. She also explores his approach to portraiture, which she feels to have been psychologically direct and unpretentious, no matter how socially or politically high-ranking his sitter. The artist also had a special affinity with children, and produced tender and lovely portraits of several very young subjects.

Watch for our mailing in the Spring announcing the opening reception for, and related programs around, this significant exhibition, which brings together many works from private and public collections held across Canada for this special touring exhibition.

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