Thursday, March 17, 2016

Frederick Varley and Vera Weatherbie

What follows is a greatly simplified, fascinating fragment of Canadian art world history.

It has to do with Frederick (Fred) Horsman Varley (1881-1969), a member of the Group of Seven who I wrote about here (Wikipedia entry here). Unlike most Group of Seven artists, he favored portraiture over landscape painting. And his character was erratic, being prone to stumbling from one personal relationship or financial crisis to another.

He spent 1926-36 in Vancouver, British Columbia teaching and painting. One of his students, Vera Olivia Weatherbie (1909 or 1910 - 1977), became both his lover and muse. There is not much about Weatherbie on the Internet, but here is one link. Varley painted Vera a number of times (see below), and one portrait is now considered iconic in Canadian art.

Weatherbie married photographer and art patron Harold Mortimer-Lamb (1872-1970) on 4 May 1942 when she was in her early 30s and he was about 70. It seems to have been a happy marriage. When she was in her mid-50s she developed dementia or insanity and was lobotomized late 1967 or in 1968. She died choking on a piece of steak on the occasion of her brother's visit from Seattle.

These details were gleaned from the book "Harold Mortimer-Lamb: the art lover" that is reviewed here.

Here are many of Varley's paintings of Vera plus a reference photo.


Portrait of Vera by John Vanderpant

Vera - c. 1928


Dharana (probably Vera) - 1932


Vera - 1934


Vera - 1931
This is the Varley portrait of Vera Weatherbie that I and others call "iconic."

1 comment:

Leo Filipp said...

Thank you, Donald, for sharing info about Vera and for her photo. I was new to Canada and just walked along some corridor on my job mission and was suddenly stopped by those eyes of Vera steering at me from an old stained reproduction hung on the wall.I took a photo of her and the artist signature. I didn't knew neither who is Vera, nor who is Varley, but I felt for sure there should be a crazy love between the artist and this model. Such a masterpiece can't be done just for money or as a "study".She must have an outstanding personality. This is one of the most erotically charged portraits without any erotic attributes I've ever seen.Can compare only to the portrait of Anna Akhmatova by Nathan Altman.
Too bad she ended her life so miserably. Worth of a movie. Leo Filipp, Architect