By Vivian Moreau
Whistler and Ottawa are far apart but they will be a little bit
closer after a collection of 20 paintings and prints by West Coast artist Toni
Onley arrives in the capital city next month.
The shipment, which includes a 1982 silkscreen print of
Overlord Mountain in Garibaldi Park,
been donated by the executor of the artist’s estate to the Canadiana Fund, a
federal government body that places art in seven official residences of the
prime minister, governor general and opposition leader.
Onley died two years when his single engine plane plunged into
the Fraser River. The well-respected artist was known for his watercolour
renditions of B.C.’s rugged coast scenes that he captured by painting on site
at remote ice fields, inlets, and harbours.
The 20 paintings, valued from $3,000 to $85,000 are the largest
donation of B.C. works to be received by the fund. National Capital Commission
staff will examine the works — including a 1.5X1.3 metre oil of Kennedy
Lake near Tofino and a 1.8X2.4 metre Arctic scene — before deciding in
which residences to place the paintings. Spokesperson Katherine Keyes says staff
will take into consideration the size and décor of potential rooms, as well as
the wishes of the occupants. “We do rotate the art work so it’s very likely
that one will end up in 24 Sussex Drive given just the sheer number of them,”
Last summer the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria held a
retrospective of Onley’s work. Curator Lisa Baldissera says Onley’s gift was a
confluence of his early training in 19
watercolours with abstract and expressionism. She also compares Onley’s eye for
landscape to Emily Carr’s.
“It’s important that someone who knows it well (the land)
paints it and you can see the difference in Emily Carr and in Toni Onley
because they’ve lived in this space and that knowledge of the landscape I think
comes through very clearly in both their works,” Baldissera said.
Dennis Robinson is the executor for Onley’s estate. He says
Onley would be “tickled pink” to find his work in Rideau Hall where he received
the Order of Canada in 1998.
“Toni’s not just a western painter — he’s known as a Canadian painter really, but obviously his forte was British Columbia and it is still quite a coup to have what is considered to be Western Canadian art hanging in the official residences,” Robinson said.