COMPOSITION FROM THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO (1824)
Signed & titled verso A Composition from the Misteries of Udolp[ho], Willm. Varley 182 , £3
Watercolour with pencil
37 x 50cm
The Mysteries of Udolpho was Ann Radcliffe's most popular novel, published in 1795, a quintessentially Gothic tale of romance, mystery and horror, which has come to be regarded as one of the archetypal Gothic novels in the English literary canon. The novel was a best-seller in its day and features heavily in Jane Austen's later Northanger Abbey, as well as being highly praised by Austen.
William Fleetwood Varley was the younger brother of John Varley, and appears to have been taught by his brother John, with whom he was living in London by 1804. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1804 and 1818 and lived in London during this period; however he was best-known as a drawing master, in Cornwall, Bath, and Oxford.
He made a name for himself as a writer of art-manuals, as many of his peers had done, with A Few Observations on Art (1816). This was followed by his lengthier treatise Observations on Colouring and Sketching from Nature (1820), an especially well written practical guide for aspiring artists. While living in Oxford he was nearly burnt to death in a fire caused by undergraduates, an event from which he never fully recovered, and after which he apparently gave up working. This must have been after 1825, the date of his latest watercolour in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
William's works are, by comparison to his famous brother's, varied in their styles and quality: at his best he can hold his own alongside John, with the present work among the highest quality of his original compositions; and on occasion, likely in the earliest part of his career, he can be mistaken for any other student of John's, with naive diminutive figures and derivative subjects and compositions.