In a few of our previous posts, we have made mention to John Varley in his capacity as an art teacher and the influence he undoubtedly had on his pupils, such as David Cox and Peter De Wint, so we thought it appropriate to learn a little more about this celebrated teacher who was also an excellent watercolourist in his own right.
John Varley was born in Hackney, London on 17 August 1778. His father, Richard Varley, had settled in London after the death of his first wife. For a brief time John Varley was employed by a portrait painter and then, at the age of 15 or 16, he attended an evening drawing school twice a week in Holborn, London run by Joseph Charles Barrow. It was Barrow who took Varley on his first sketching tour to Peterborough from which he was to emerge as a professional painter.
Throughout his career he worked primarily in watercolour and was particularly skilled at the laying of flat washes of watercolour which suited the placid, contemplative mood that he often sought to evoke.
In 1798 he exhibited a highly regarded sketch of Peterborough Cathedral at the Royal Academy and became a regular exhibitor at the RA until the foundation of the Old Watercolour Society in 1805 (see previous article ‘History of the Royal Watercolour Society’).
As one of the founders of the OWS Varley exhibited many pieces there, over 700 drawings in total. In between sketching expeditions to Wales and Yorkshire, he executed topographical views of towns, particularly of half-timbered buildings in Hereford, Leominster, Conway and Chester, drawn in the picturesque idiom of the late 18th century.
As previously mentioned, he also became a highly successful drawing master with pupils including David Cox, Copley Fielding and John Linnell but despite his success he was constantly in financial difficulties.
He died in London on 17 November 1842, aged 64.