Exhibition Review by Christian Cardell Corbet
Fairy Tales, Mary Bell Eastlake, c. 1916, oil on canvas 68.8x72 cm
Collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Gift of Vera M. Bell, Almonte, Ont. 1934, in loving memory of James Mackintosh Bell, Ph.d, LL.D., F.R.S., O.B.E.
May 5th – Aug 21st 2005 Varley Art Gallery, Unionville, Ontario.
Think back in time, to a time when life was carefree, fun and filled with excitement and adventure. When you think back, you will undoubtedly revisit your childhood. The Varley Art Gallery’s most recent exhibition entitled, “Childhood Revisited”, chronicles the depiction of youth from the Victorian era to the early 21st century and is a “Neverland” of fantastic portraits for all to behold!
Organized by respected Guest Curator Chris Jackson, this exhibition consists of a broad cross-section of images depicting children of all ages by some of Canada’s leading artists with 52 fine portraits spanning over a century and a half of great portraiture.
This enchanting exhibition displays works that cover a variety of mediums employed to tenderly portray the child and the state of childhood, a theme that has been endeared for centuries. Works of art by renowned artists such as Laura Muntz Lyall (1860-1930), who grew to become Canada’s first woman artist to be recognized at the international level for her depictions of children, are luminescent. In a different, yet exciting, capacity we are met with the work of Jean Paul Lemieux (1904-1990) and his playful, simplified portrayal of the young and innocent human form which lends to a more unique and personal style quite different from other portrait artists of his day.
“Fairy Tales” by Mary Bell Eastlake (1864-1951) greets you as you enter the exhibition. The two subjects, presumably sisters, are enraptured in their own worlds. The eldest girl with her arm around her younger sister is reading intensely and with great concentration with index finger bookmarked to a page, maybe of an illustration to revert back to? The younger sister gazes outward of the portrait into another world absorbing the great wonders and adventures that her ears heed and that her mind’s eye is playing out for her. She listens attentively!
As we explore the gallery paintings seem to pop out at you, from the vibrant cerulean blue and calming mossy green walls, like pictorial pages from a storybook. Once again the work of F H Varley commands our attention in his portrait “Sunflower Girl”. Typical of Varley’s work, paint and colours are built up to an almost impasto luxurious feel colours are juxtaposed with great skill. When we view the little girl we are immediately amused at the fact that she is seemingly standing in a bed of glowing sunflowers, maybe a place where she shouldn’t be, with an impish grin and a sense of mischievousness. Varley captured the playful yet shy character of the child and at the same time created a contemplative feel to his subject that induces the viewer to want to read more into the child’s thoughts and life.
Sunflower Girl, F H Varley, 1921, oil on canvas
© 2003 Estate of Kathleen G. McKay.
“Sunday Morning #2”, a serene portrait of two young brothers by Jack Chambers (1931-1978), creates a timely solitude that almost everyone can identify with - the quiet of a still winter’s morn while two young boys commence their day while transfixed to their favorite television show. Chambers was a master of capturing timeless moments to which we can all relate. His subdued soft pastel colours create peacefulness, a tranquility of a time and place in a child’s life when they have little worries or concerns, save for what is immediately affecting them.
Sunday Morning #2, Jack Chambers, c.1976-77, oil on wood. Private Collection
These are but only three paintings in the exhibition that are to marvel at with several from private collections that have rarely been seen before. This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of some exciting works guaranteed to please your soul. John Ryerson, Director of the Varley Art Gallery states, "This exhibition advances our commitment to explore portraiture in keeping with our namesake Fred Varley…I want the gallery to be welcoming to children and families." And welcoming it is!
Take a step back in time and revisit your childhood through the eyes and hands of these talented artist’s works. Be sure to add “Childhood Revisited” at the Varley Art Gallery to your must-see list. You will not be disappointed.