Frederick Horsman Varley (1881-1969), Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay, 1921, oil on canvas, 132.6 x 162.8 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
The other lunchtime I was walking along Oxford Street (errand running), and while battling the severe wind and rain a stray umbrella bobbed pass me towards Regent’s Street like tumbleweed. It would be a lie to say that Frederick Horsman Varley’s Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay immediately sprang to mind, but if at the time someone had asked whether I felt like a buffeted pine tree I would have nodded sagely.
A member of the Canadian Group of Seven, built on the legacy of Tom Thomson, Varley and the rest of the collective engaged with, were inspired by and explored a Canadian wilderness that was previously believed too wild to inspire true art. The Toronto Star described them as ‘garish, affected, freakish’ while the Saturday Night reflected on their style as a ‘rigid formula of ugliness.’ It is fair to say then that they were pioneers in both senses of the word. Late impressionist in character with traits of expressionism and suffused with adventure, Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay has an emotional impact with its lively use of colour and rhythmic shapes. And while the whipping winds churn the bay into a maelstrom of white water, the whole scene still sparkles with sunlight, resulting in a sensitive and fluid interpretation of nature’s vastness, grandeur and capriciousness. Arguably it is the Group’s crowning achievement. TA