John Varley

The most influential of the Varley family of artists(1778 - 1842), he was a gifted and prolific landscape watercolourist and teacher.

Varley's early topographical views of towns in the picturesque idiom of the late 18th century gave way to naturalistic landscape watercolours which show the influence of artists like John Robert Cozens (1752 - 1797) and John Sell Cotman (1782 - 1843). A founder member of the 'Society of Painters in Watercolours' in 1805, he wanted his watercolours to rival oil paintings and they became larger and more complex in treatment and content. He increasingly worked to formula as he became more prolific, exhibiting as many as 20 watercolours a year.

Varley's finest work dates from around 1805 to around 1820, when he produced his broadest and most luminous watercolours. He specialised in long, horizontal compositions with the 'clear skies, distances and water' which he claimed 'are the beauties most sought after in the art of watercolours'. Compositions post 1837 used coarse paper and were much more densely painted, using blues, purples and pinks, often with gum, over a brown ground. Varley was a gifted and sucessful teacher and published a number of drawing manuals. Amongst his pupils were William Henry Hunt 1790 - 1864), David Cox (1783 - 1859), Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787 - 1855), Peter De Wint (1784 - 1849) and Samuel Palmer (1805 - 1881). He encouraged his pupils to sketch from nature. He later became a writer of 'how-to-do-it' books on painting.

Despite his great success as an artist and a teacher, Varley spent time in debtors' prisons in his later years.
  • Gender
    Male
  • Relationship
    Artist/maker
  • Nationality
    British
  • Born
    17 August 1778
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: London: Hackney
  • Died
    17 November 1842
  • Place of death
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: London
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
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