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Selected Collections
Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC
The Feckless Collection, Vancouver, BC
Winnipeg Art Gallery, MB
London Public Library & Art Museum, ON
York University, Toronto, ON
Art Gallery Of Ontario, Toronto, ON
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON
Musée d'Art Contemperary, Montreal, QC
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, P.Q
Confederation Centre, Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Memorial University, St. John’s, NL
Seattle Museum of Fine Arts, WA, USA
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Tate Gallery London, UK
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

Toni Onley, 1928 - 2004

It’s the timeless things that I’m looking for, it’s the things that don’t date.  The things that are there now and have always been there –– this is what feeds my art.
— Toni Onley, Landscape Revealed, 2004

Canadian art legend and recipient of the Order of Canada, Toni Onley is best known for his watercolour landscapes of Canada’s West Coast.  

Born on the Isle of Man, Toni Onley was influenced by traditional English landscape painters, particularly J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and Archibald Knox (1864-1933). He emigrated to Canada in 1948, studying at the Doon School of Fine Art in 1951 under Carl Schaefer.

After the death of his first wife in 1955, Onley moved to Penticton, British Columbia with his two daughters to be closer to his parents. Soon after, he was awarded a scholarship to the Institute Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. There he studied under James Pinto whose abstract impressionistic paintings set Onley on a new direction of non-objective work.

In 1958, while Onley was still in Mexico, he had his first solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, featuring his experimental collage paintings. He returned to Canada in 1960.   

In 1961 he completed a 90-square-metre mural, his largest abstract collage, for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver.

In 1964 he won a Canada Council grant to spend a year in London, where he studied intaglio printmaking techniques; etching and aquatint. Much of his work from this time was purely abstract.

He returned to Vancouver from London in 1965, and gradually returned to landscape painting.  

In 1978, the Vancouver Art Gallery held a huge retrospective of his work, comprising both his purely abstract works of the 1960s and his new evolving landscape works.  By 1981, with the publication of Toni Onley: A Silent Thunder, Onley’s landscapes had gained him a new reputation as one of Canada’s leading landscape artists –– the reputation by which he is best known today.  

From 1974 to 1986, Onley travelled three times to the Arctic. In 1989 he published Onley’s Arctic: Diaries and Paintings of the High Arctic.  Onley often kept travel journals, which he illustrated with watercolour sketches.  His journals of Japan, China, and Venice are kept in the University of British Columbia’s Special Collections. 

Onley took issue with Revenue Canada in the 1980s, at one point threatening to burn his unsold work on Vancouver's Wreck Beach because he wasn't allowed to deduct expenses for ongoing art projects against his income. He would later approve of changes made to the tax code that helped artists.

Onley loved flying, and often flew to remote areas of BC to paint. Onley once escaped death when he crashed his small plane onto a BC glacier, breaking his leg. He and a passenger spent a terrifying night awaiting rescue.

However, twenty years later, life ended tragically on February 29, 2004, when a sudden heart attack caused him to crash his Lake Buccaneer amphibious airplane into the Fraser River near Maple Ridge. He was 79.

Scholarship, Instituto Allende 1957
Jessie Dow Award at Montreal Spring Show, 1960
Paris Biennial, 1961
Spring Purchase Award (MMFA), 1962
Canada Council Grant 1961, 1963
Sam & Ayola Zacks Award, RCA Annual, 1963
Canada Council Senior Fellowship, 1964
Canadian Biennials exhibitor 1959, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1968

Association of Royal Canadian Artists (1964)
B.C. Society Of Artists
Canadian Society of painters in Water Colour
Canadian Group of Painters

A Silent Thunder. Prentice-Hall, 1981
Onley’s Arctic. Douglas McIntyre, 1991
The Walls of India. Onley/Woodcock, Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1985
Toni Onley’s British Columbia, A Tribute, Raincoast Books, 1999