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John Varley (1778-1842) - Extensive Landscape
  • John Varley (1778-1842) - Extensive Landscape

    This important watercolour by Varley was painted c.1820 and was in the collection of the prolific British watercolour collector L.G. Duke (1). It follows carefully in the tradition of Thomas Girtin, of whom Varley was an early admirer. Varley most likely came across Girtin through Dr Thomas Monro and his evening 'Academy'. He was known to have visited as early as 1799 and this link opened up a wide circle of artistic friends (2). Varley was particularly interested in utilising the medium of watercolour to the best potential it had. This was implemented through the use of various washes of the thick specialist paper he used. The link to Girtin is important to bear in mind with this watercolour, for example in c.1802-1803 Varley copied Girtin's Bala Lake which offers a useful comparison (3). The use of a foreground figure and a darker patch of land near to the front of the composition help to frame the work. The clever use of watercolour washes help to build up the mountain range in the distance and you can see where the pigments were absorbed by the paper Varley used. 


    It has been suggested that the large mountain in the distance could be Mount Snowdon. However, this watercolour needs further research and L.G. Duke's manuscript of his works may yield further fruit. Another label found on the back of the watercolour suggests it could also be a view in the Lake District. However, with Varley's interest in both Girtin and Wilson, along with his many trips to Wales (the first in 1798), it seems likely this is a view of North Wales.


    Medium: watercolour on paper. 28.5 x 43 cm, framed.


    Provenance: collection of L.G. Duke (1890-1971); probably sold at his series of Sotheby's sales between 1970-1971. The watercolour is inscribed 411/1 on the reverse which may relate to its record in Duke's manuscript. There is a copy of this in the British Museum's collection.




    (1) Egerton, Judy. "L.G. Duke and his collection of English Drawings." Old Water-colour Society's Club XLIX (1974): 11-29.

    (2) C.M. Kauffman, John Varley (1778-1842) (London, 1984). See pp. 13-18, this also explores Varley's membership of the Sketching Society. Girtin had previously been a founding member of this group in 1799.

    (3) Lyles, Anne. "John Varley's Early Work." Old Water-colour Society's Club LIX (1984): 1-22. See pp.2-5.


    Condition report: the mount is creased in the lower left hand corner as shown in a photograph. The watercolour has particularly vibrant original colouring. There is a small vertical crease to the left of the centre of the watercolour which is obvious in the photographs. This is not visible unless viewed up close or at an angle. Small toning to the edges of the watercolour from the mount and a couple of tiny marks in the sky.

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