Varley was born on January 2, 1881 in Sheffield, England. He immigrated to Canada in 1912, on the advice from Arthur Lismer and worked at the Grip Ltd design firm, where he met many of the original members of the Group of Seven.
Like a few of his fellow painters, he served in the World War I, came to the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, who in turn commissioned him as a war artist. Varley reflected his experience in the war onto his paintings. It was clear that he was disturbed by his experience at the front. He said, “We’d be healthier to forget [the war], and that we never can. We are forever tainted with its cruel drama.”
In 1920, Varley was a founding member of the Group of Seven. He and his fellow painters decided to concentrate their paintings to portray Canada’s wilderness that had been damaged by fire or harsh climates.
Also of interest, only he and Lawren Harris, painted portraits (as opposed to landscapes).
Varley passed away on September 8, 1969 in Toronto, Ontario, at age 88.
On May 6, 1994, Canada post issued a “F.H. Varley” stamp in the Masterpieces of Canadian art series.