Works included in this catalogue
Varley Dolgelly near Barmouth 1818 {1902} NGV [WT]
Varley Moel Heboeg {1902} NGV [WT]

Mallalieu (1976) quotes the extraordinary observation by Randall Davies (later Felton Bequest advisor, 1931-34), that Varley did for water-colour painting “what St.Paul did for Christianity”!

Examples of his neoclassical landscapes are held in the Tate and other British collections. Other landscape watercolours by him were acquired for the NGV after 1905, which also holds examples by his brother Cornelius (1781-1873) and his nephew (?) John (1850-1933).

Varley had numerous pupils, whose talents he is said to have fostered. He was also a devotee of astrology, and formed a close friendship with William Blake, with whom he collaborated on Visionary Heads (published in 1819-20; text by Varley), featuring Blake’s illustrations of miscellaneous historical and mythical figures, conjured up late at night. These included some of Blake’s most remarkable images, such as Ghost of a Flea and The Man who built the Pyramids (originals in the Tate). Varley was apparently introduced to Blake by John Linnell, a former student of Varley, and a major patron of Blake in his later years: see now Linnell Wheat {1888} NGV [PA].


For Varley, see Bénézit 14, pp.41-42;;; and For Visionary Heads, see (a detailed and well-referenced entry). See also (Farmstead under stormy sky, by Cornelius Varley; with reproduction); and, for Nile Dhows (1880s) by John Varley Junior (not reproduced)