Frederick Varley was born in 1881 in Sheffield, England. He studied painting at Sheffield and Antwerp and went to work in London as a commercial illustrator. In 1912 he came to Canada, where he found himself working in the same commercial studio as Tom Thomson. With Thomson and the others he took to painting Northern Ontario landscapes, and also began to do considerable work as a portrait painter. In 1926 Varley moved to Vancouver to become Head of Drawing, Painting & Composition at the newly formed Vancouver School of Decorative & Applied Arts. In 1933 he founded his own school, the B.C. College of Arts, but this venture led to his bankruptcy in 1935. In 1938 his marriage also collapsed. The next years were difficult for Varley, most of them spent suffering from alcoholism in Montreal. In 1945, however, he returned to Toronto and slowly began to work again. He died in Toronto in 1969.