Putting a face to ‘misunderstood’ Canadian painter

Katerina Atanassova laughs when I note her deep affection for the work of painter F.H. Varley.


Katerina Atanassova laughs when I note her deep affection for the work of painter F.H. Varley.

“Yes, you can tell that I definitely love his work,” she agrees. “He is one of the foremost portrait artists and he deserves his place in Canadian art history.”

Atanassova, in turn, is one of the foremost experts on the work of Frederick Horsman Varley. She is curator of the Varley Art Gallery in Unionville, and the curator of the vast exhibit, F.H. Varley: Portraits Into the Light, which is now on display at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

It is Atanassova’s mission to help raise the profile of Varley, whom she considers both revered and underestimated all at the same time.

“Even media writing about him in his time described him as one of the most misunderstood Canadian painters,” she explains. “His influence as part of the Group of Seven, creating those landscapes, is evident, but he was so much more than that.”

While the Group of Seven created wilderness paintings that seemed “untouched by civilization,” Atanassova says Varley was influential in his ability to paint human faces into the landscapes.

One of his early works, Indian Summer, is a great example of putting the person into nature, Atanassova says. But she says it is his technique and skill in capturing facial nuances that also makes him an artist worthy of praise.

“He liked to paint all faces — friends, family, anyone who commissioned him to paint their picture.”

That is why there is such variety within the 70 pieces displayed in the exhibit. There are “society” portraits, as well as more personal depictions of Varley’s relatives and friends. And, Atanassova adds, she’s especially excited about his many wonderful portraits of children.

Many of the featured paintings are from private collections, and will be shown publicly for the first time.

“I think it’s a great way to see this new aspect of Varley that’s rarely seen,” Atanassova says. “Little gems of art that anyone can appreciate.”

– After covering hard news for a few years, Kim discovered her real passion – writing about the wonderful world of music, theatre, visual arts and literature.

 
 
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