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Toni Onley

Epithet: Manx artist (1928-2004)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: Toni Onley was the son of James Onley, an English actor. He trained at the Douglas School of Art with John H. Nicholson (his mentor) and then emigrated from the Island to Canada in 1948 with his family. He became increasingly well-known as an artist in the 1950s and won scholarships to train in Mexico in 1958 and London in 1963. On his return to Canada, he established himself as one of the country’s leading artists, a position he held until his death in 2004 in a plane accident.

Those early lessons in painting watercolours out of doors (on the Isle of Man) have stayed with me all these years and have served me well during my travels to such places as England, Ireland, Italy, Greece and India, to name only a few. At home in Vancouver, I have long since abandoned my bicycle for a flying boat which takes me around British Columbia and across Canada in search of landscapes, as far as the remote Arctic regions.
Toni Onley, 2001.

Toni Onley’s early work (1940s-1950s) was in the style of his teacher, John H. Nicholson, but by the late 1950s and 1960s, his work was dominated by large scale abstract works. From the late 1960s he began to develop a style of landscape watercolour painting that followed in the tradition of his early heroes, Archibald Knox and J.M.W. Turner.

The Isle of Man Post Office released a set of stamps in May 2002 which celebrated Toni Onley’s work as an internationally renowned Manx-born artist, using a series of watercolour paintings of Manx landscape views he produced in 2000.

Among the chief influences of my youth were the works of Archibald Knox and the early paintings of John Nicholson’s grandfather, John Miller Nicholson. These Manx artists are still my patron saints. In the Manx Museum, I saw again William Hoggatt’s painting of East Baldwin with cloud shadows racing across the valley and hills beyond. I remember Hoggatt with his battered, punched-out fedora and old raincoat, a fearsome spectacle, fiercely possessive of ‘his’ waterlily pond and impatient with all other artists on the Island, especially Nicholson.
Toni Onley, 2001.

For further information see the artist’s website (

Occupation / profession: artist

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1928

Place of birth: Douglas, Isle of Man

Date of death: 2004

Place of death: British Columbia, Canada


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