VARLEY, JOHN (1778-1842), English water-colour painter, was born at Hackney, London, on the 17th of August 1778. His father, a man of scientific attainments and tutor in the family of Lord Stanhope, discouraged his leanings towards art, and placed him under a silversmith. But on his parent's death Varley escaped from this uncongenial employment, and, after working with a portrait painter, engaged himself at the age of sixteen to an architectural draughtsman, who took him on a provincial tour to sketch the principal buildings in the towns they visited. His spare hours were employed in sketching from nature, and in the evenings he was permitted, like Turner and Girtin, to study in the house of Dr Munro. In 1798 he ex- hibited his first work, a " View of Peterborough Cathedral," in the Royal Academy.
In 1799 he visited North Wales, and in its wild mountain scenery found the subjects best suited to his brush. He returned to the same district in 1800, and again in 1802, and the impressions then received powerfully in- fluenced the whole course of his art. In 1804 he became a foundation member of the Water-Colour Society, and con- tributed over forty works to its first exhibition. He had married in the previous year; and, in order to provide for the wants of an increasing family, he was obliged to produce for the dealers much work of a slight and commonplace char- acter. He also taught drawing, and some of his pupils, such as John Linnell and William Hunt, afterwards became cele- brated. He was a firm believer in astrology, skilful in casting horoscopes; and some curious instances were related of the truth of his predictions. It was at his house that his friend William Blake sketched his celebrated " Visionary Heads." Varley died at London on the 17th of November 1842.Varley's landscapes are graceful and solemn in feeling, and simple and broad in treatment, being worked with a full brush and pure fresh transparent tints, usually without any admixture of body- colour. Though his works are rather mannered and conventional, they are well considered and excellent in composition. Some of his earlier water-colours, including his " Views of the Thames," were painted upon the spot, and possess greater individuality than his later productions, which are mainly compositions of mountain and lake scenery, produced without direct reference to nature. Among his literary works are Zodiacal Physiology (1828); Observations on Colour and Sketching from Nature (1830); A Practical Treatise on Perspective, and Principles of Landscape Design for Young Artists.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911