Thomas R. Manley Biography

Thomas R. Manley




Impressionist painter, etcher, and lithographer Thomas Rathbone Manley was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1853. The man who would later become known as “The Dean of Montclair Artists” first attempted to study law. A chance encounter with a watercolorist who was painting the woods en plain air near Manley's home inspired him to send away for a watercolor kit. He quickly realized he wanted to pursue art as a career, and quit law after managing to set aside enough of his income to enroll for three months at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This would be his only formal training, including a life drawing class by Thomas Eakins. This set Manley on his path. 

It was in Philadelphia that Manley met renowned etcher Joseph Pennell, which was a turning point for the budding artist who was inspired by Pennell's work. He took what he knew of printmaking and relocated to New York, setting up a studio and trying his hand at freelance etching and lithography. Bringing his portfolio with him, he approached a variety of publications in the hopes of securing an income while also creating his own works. Magazines and newspapers were soon commissionisng works from Manley and before long Frederick Keppel, New York's leading print dealer, approached him with an offer of representation. By this time, Manley's reputation as one of New York's finest printmakers was established, and he was able to choose commissions from then onward.

Manley married in 1887 and moved with his wife, Evelyn Burr, and two daughters to Montclair, New Jersey in 1893, where he become friends with George Inness, Ballard Willaims, Emily Greenough, and Frederick Waugh among others. He took bicycle trips into the surrounding farming country and drew quick thumbnail sketches of scenes that he would later paint in a larger format. He also ground his own pigments and made his own paints and inks. Works were soon commissioned by private and corporate parties, including a set of murals for the Yale Club in New York and another mural to reside over the fireplace of J.D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s home. Manley remained in New Jersey until his death in 1935.  

He was a member of the American Watercolor Society, the National Arts Club, and the New York Watercolor Club. He exhibited at the Boston Art Club, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (1904 medal), the Society of Independent Arts, the National Academy of Design, and the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, 1915.