1920 to 1939 The Formative Years

1919 Winnipeg, Manitoba

House and Fence 1919; w-c on paper; 5.5"x9"

House and Fence 1919; w-c on paper; 5.5″x9″

A Garden 1921; Watercolour on paper; 5″x8″

In 1919 Cam, his parents, his older sister Grace and younger brother Robert moved into the “house of our dreams” at 222 Mayfair Avenue in Winnipeg residing there until 1921 – age 9 [left] to 11 [right].

1924 Winnipeg, Manitoba

First Baptist Church, Winnipeg 1924; Watercolour on paper; 23 x 25.5 cm Photo Credit: Ernest Mayer, Winnipeg Art Gallery

Calvary Temple 400 Hargrave Street Winnipeg 2012

In 1924 Tinning took art lessons on Saturday mornings from Alexander J. Musgrove at a downtown studio. Nearby was the First Baptist Church. This work was completed when the artist was 14 years old. It is in the collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. AJ Musgrove organized the Winnipeg School of Art, the Winnipeg Sketch Club, was one of the founders of the Manitoba Society of Artists and later served as Curator of the Winnipeg Art Gallery from 1932 to 1949.

The First Baptist Church (built in 1892) was mostly demolished then rebuilt as the Calvary Temple Christian Education Centre in 1985. Only the tower remains of the orginal Church but it has become an iconic landmark. The Temple fills a city block and is a vibrant addition to the rejuvenated downtown core. This view is looking west along Hargrave Street towards Cumberland Street.

1925 Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan

This painting was likely done at Scout Camp in the Qu’Appelle Valley.

Scout Camp 1925; Watercolour on paper; 22.5 x 27.5 cm. Courtesy MJM&AG

1926-27 Regina, Saskatchewan

Brass Ornament and Flower 1926; Watercolour on paper; 19 x 17.5 cm

The teen years were a time of experimentation with colour and design. Tinning drew and painted objects or subjects readily available and accessible (this was to become a recurrent theme in his art). These included “knickknacks” and other small pieces of family heirlooms such as the brass snake-charmer seen in the painting on the left. An old photo of the James Campbell Mausoleum, St. Quivox Parish in Ayrshire, Scotland was an inspiration for the watercolour seen below. (Tinning was very proud of his Scottish heritage and later in 1945 while he was a War Artist visited Ayrshire to paint the ancestral home of his branch of the Campbell family.)

Campbell Mausoleum, Ayr 1927 Watercolour on paper; 30 x 37.5 cm

Campbell Mausoleum 2013

Campbell Mausoleum, St. Quivox Auchincruive, Ayrshire, Scotland October 2013

Nanny 1927; Pencil on paper; 17.5 x 12.5 cm. Courtesy MJM&AG

Tinning’s grandmother (known as Nanny) – who was his mother’s mother – lived with the family during the 1920s. This pencil sketch is a loving tribute from her grandson who was 17 years old at the time this was drawn.

Another recurrent theme in Tinning paintings are city skylines. Seen below is an early example from Regina. Viewed from the distant prairie the twin Cathedral towers shown are likely “Holy Rosary” on Garnet Street in the western part of the city. The Tinning family resided in a house not far from the Cathedral at 2357 Garnet Street. Cam, his older sister Grace, his younger brother Roberts, their parents and “Nanny” resided here 1925-1926.

Possibly Regina 1926; oil on canvas; 20 x 30 cm. Courtesy MJM&AG.

1928-29 Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan

Two small works painted in July of Echo Lake and one painted in “The Valley Autumn”.

Three Scenes Qu’Appelle Valley 1928; Oil on board; each 25 x 30 cm. Courtesy MJM&AG.

A summer cottage for the family at B-Say-Tah on Echo Lake… Mum reads…

Mum at B-Say-Tah 1929; Oil on board; 25 x 30 cm. Courtesy MJM&AG

1930-31 Regina Saskatchewan

James Hay Campbell (1834-1884) was the artist’s maternal grandfather. He became an officer in the 71st Highland Light Infantry. This portait was painted from an early photo. Geneology of the Campbell’s was of particular interest to the artist.

James Hay Campbell Photo 1883; Major JH Campbell 1930-31; Oil on canvas

James Hay Campbell Undated Photo; Major JH Campbell 1930-1; Oil on canvas; 77 x 61 cm

1930 Regina, Saskatchewan

Albert Street Bridge Plaques: 1930 Design Photos (Courtesy MacKenzie Art Gallery) on left; 2010 Photos in situ on right.

Tinning’s earliest design work was for the Albert Street Bridge. Completed in 1930 the bridge was to hold plaques engraved with the names of Saskatchewan soldiers who died in the “Great War”. Tinning’s designs of Queen Victoria’s head, the provincial crest and a buffalo head were used instead.

Tinning studied Art at Regina College under J.H. Lee-Grayson who wrote about his former pupil: “Very serious indeed, a draughtsman of exceptional ability, vigorous in execution, splendid conception and most enthusiastic.” (Letter June 9th, 1932.)

Photo of Bob and Cam Tinning, Regina 1930

Cam Tinning (aged 20) and his younger brother Bob on the lawn of their home at 2128 McIntyre Street. The family lived in three Regina houses between 1925 and 1938. Cam was the middle child of three – his sister Grace being two years his senior. His father George Richard Tinning was a bank manager with the Union Bank of Canada. When it merged with the Royal Bank of Canada in 1925 Tinning Sr. became an executive official at the RBC. The Tinning family was originally from Toronto, Ontario.

2720 College St., Regina SK circa 1932This photo from Tinning’s personal album is captioned “2720 College Street, Regina 1932-39… the rondels between the windows were the only designs I did during a try in an architect’s office.”

Unitarian Centre,College Street, Regina SK 2014A quest to find these rondels ended in November 2014 with the discovery that 2720 College Street is now the site of the Davin Place and the adjacent building (corner of Rae Street) is the Unitarian Centre (AD 1928).

Close-up of rondels 2014 At right is a 2014 closeup photo of one of the rondels Tinning designed in the 1930s.

1936 Banff Alberta

The Beehive from The Tea House 1936

These two small watercolours on paper were painted of the Beehive looking from the Tea House on Lakes Agnes in Banff National Park in 1936. Left: 15″ x 10″. Right: 15″ x 12″. Tinning eventually painted scenes in all 10 Canadian provinces. These are believed to be his first in Alberta.

1938 Goose Rocks Beach, Maine

Cam Tinning painting at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine 1938

Cam Tinning painting at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine 1938

Tinning attended the Eliot O’Hara School of Watercolor Painting for two courses in July and August, 1938. He was taught to paint without an easel and in the style of Japanese watercolourists by using a horizontal flat surface such as the ground on which to paint. The watercolour below he described as a “picture in design” was completed in a town nearby. He wrote fifty years later: “I still own this… one of the best”.

Ogonquit Houses 1938; Watercolour on paper; 15″ x 22″ Courtesy: S. Bowes

Circus Elephants 1938; Watercolour on paper; 28 x 38 cm

Circus Elephants 1938; Watercolour on paper; 28 x 38 cm

This painting completed in the summer of 1938 while Tinning studied at the Eliot O’Hara School of Watercolour  exemplifies his occasionally whimsical nature. The travelling circus was visiting in Kennebunkport, Maine near Goose Rocks Beach. On the reverse is an untitled watercolour. Tinning frequently painted on both sides of his  – especially in his early formative years when his financial status was precarious.


Maine Still Life 1938; watercolour on paper; 75 x 56 cm

Maine Scene 1938; watercolour on paper; 75 x 56 cm

This maritime still-life completed in July 1938 while Tinning studied at the Eliot O’Hara School of Watercolour Painting – the first art school of its kind in North America.  (The school was destroyed by forest fire in 1947 and never re-opened.) The seaside location proved fascinating to an artist from the prairies and seascapes remained a favoured theme throughout his career. In 1949 he visited Newfoundland for two months – July and August – to paint in Canada’s newest province. An exhibition curated by Heather Smith of the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery (MJMAG) travelled across Canada from 2010-13.  This links to a virtual tour of that exhibition and includes other Tinning material held by the MJMAG.

1938 Biddeford, Maine

Biddeford, Maine 1938; watercolour on paper; 55.0 x 60.0 cm; Bowes Collection

Tinning studied at the famed Eliot O’Hara Watercolour School in Goose Rocks Beach, Maine during July and August of 1938. Frequently, he painted scenes of nearby industrial towns such as Saco and Biddeford. At left is a street scene identified by the artist as Biddeford in 1938. Below, from his 1938 notebook, is a sketch of a scene identified as Saco – a town across the Saco River. What Is the true location of this scene? Is identity important? Why did Tinning choose this scene?

Saco, Maine 1938; pencil on paper; 15x20cm

1938 August, Maine

Untitled 1939 or 40; oil on Masonite; 39x50 cm

Untitled 1939 or 40; oil on Masonite; 39×50 cm

Design Abstracts 1938; pencil on paper; 5″x7″

On August 11th, 1938 Tinning pencilled three design abstracts (seen at right) as an exercise in his sketchbook while studying at the Eliot O’Hara School of Watercolor Painting in Maine. In 2000, 4 years after his death an untitled oil painting – initialed and dated “G.C.T. 1939 or 40” – was found in the artist’s Montreal studio/apartment and it is likely based on these sketches. In this painting the artist juxtaposes columns, an arch, parabolas and various curvilinear forms to focus on the spectral human figure. He notes in the sketchbook: “Perspective is used to focus the attention of the observer on the centre of interest.” As such, this work is an exercise in drawing which has been transformed into a work of surrealism.

1938 New York City

Tinning studied at the Art Students League of New York in October/November with Arnold Blanch & William Palmer. His work was also exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Central Park, New York City; Watercolour on paper; 16″ x 22″

1939 Montreal Quebec

Montreal 1939, Watercolour on paper; 55 X 59 cm

Montreal 1939, Watercolour on paper; 55 X 59 cm

Montreal 1939; Watercolour on Hi-Art board; 37.5 x 39 cm

Montreal 1939; Watercolour on Hi-Art board; 37.5 x 39 cm

These two views of Montreal were likely of the McGill Campus near the corner of McTavish Street and Sherbrooke Street. The mansion would be “Dilcoosha” which was demolished in 1952. Later the McLennan Library was built on this site.

Tinning arrived in Montreal in late 1938. This scene was “Done in rented room $5 a week on McGill College Avenue in Montreal in 1939. My assets $109.50.” He would have been within easy walking distance of “Dilcoosha”.

Furnshed room Feb 1939; watercolour on paper; 28 x 55 cm

Furnished room Feb 1939; watercolour on paper; 28 x 55 cm


On January 14, 1939 Tinning received his first review in Montreal from The Gazette for his solo exhibition at the Sidney Carter Gallery. Entitled “Show of Watercolours by Campbell Tinning”  (published prominently beside a painting by AY Jackson.) the review extolled Tinning’s recent work . The photos below show some of the original paintings or works similar to those described in the newspaper review – most are dated from 1938.

From The Standard (Montreal): Art News and Reviews by Robert Ayre (Jan 21, 1939):
“In Campbell Tinning a young man has come to town who will bear watching. He is worth looking at now, as you will find if you go up to Carter’s on Victoria Street, but I see trends in his work that will lead him into even greater depths…”

Belmont Park, 1939; watercolour on paper; 37x50 cm

Belmont Park, 1939; watercolour on paper; 37×50 cm; see photo from 1937

“It might well be said that Tinning’s water colours fall into three categories. He has a sense of humour, a feeling for the pleasantly grotesque which leads him to paint the garish gates of Belmont Park [left], the fronts of odd Montreal houses [below]…

Beaver Hall Square 1939; watercolour on Hi-Art Board, 37x50 cm

Beaver Hall Hill Square 1939; watercolour on Hi-Art Board, 37×50 cm




…a rococo chair squatting like some half-human creature beside a radiator [below]

Chair in Rooming House 1938;; watercolour on paper; 50x30cm

Chair in Rooming House 1938;; watercolour on paper; 50x30cm

…and a dilapidated automobile looking a little silly in a shed.

Ivory Emmon's Ford 1938; w-c on paper; 39.1x57.0 cm; Courtesy: Art Gallery of Hamilton

Ivory Emmon’s Ford 1938; w-c on paper; 39.1×57.0 cm; Courtesy: Art Gallery of Hamilton

Sea Rhythm 1938; watercolour on paper, 37x55 cm Courtesy: S. Bowes

Sea Rhythm 1938; watercolour on paper, 37×55 cm Courtesy: S. Bowes

Lastly, the semi-abstracted seascapes, laid out in zigzags [left] and reminding you a little of Marin though as yet naturally lacking in depth… and the abstractions made after listening to the music of Sibelius [below]… Tinning shows as a painter vigorous and quick and at the same time sensitive and thoughtful, exploring both himself and the world around him with imagination.”

Sibelius 1938; watercolour on paper; 24.0x38.4 cm Courtesy: Agnes Etherington Art Centre

Sibelius 1938; watercolour on paper; 24.0×38.4 cm Courtesy: Agnes Etherington Art Centre

In early 1939 Tinning explored Montreal looking for cityscapes to paint. He discovered Montreal’s historic Chateau Ramezay and Percy Walters Park at the north end of Simpson Street (Later he moved to The Linton Apartments at its south end.)

Chateau Ramezay undated; w-c on paper; 15.5" x 22.5"

Chateau Ramezay undated; w-c on paper; 15.5″ x 22.5″

Percy Walters Park 1939; w-c on paper; 11″x15″

Victoria Street, Montreal 1939

Victoria Street, Montreal 1939; w/c on paper; 51×37 cm


Victoria Street in downtown Montreal was the location of the Sidney Carter Galleries where Tinning had his first solo exhibition.This scene, at left, painted in April 1939 was one of many he completed during his first year living there. He also sketched the Sun Life Building (below) on Dominion Square and George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their 1939 Royal Tour.
Sun Life Building pencil sketch 1939

1939 Royal Tour in Montreal

Tinning sketch and photo of Royal Tour in Montreal, 1939

1939-01-14-sidney-carter-advert-in-the-gazetteTinning’s second solo exhibition in Montreal was mounted at Sidney Carter Art Galleries. Robert Ayre, art critic, writes in The Standard (Montreal) of October 28, 1939: “After a summer spent mostly in Maine and in the Laurentians, Campbell Tinning is back with a show of about 30 water colors in Sidney Carter’s gallery on Victoria Street. Those of you who saw his exhibition in January will be eager to see his work; those who missed it are advised not to let another opportunity slip. A few of the paintings are disappointing; they seem to have come too easily and are consequently thin; but the majority are well thought out and vital.

Piedmont, Quebec 1939

Piedmont, Quebec 1939, watercolour on paper; 39×50 cm

The line has an important place in Tinning’s water colors. This is particularly noticeable in subjects like Montreal streets, cranes and boats at Portland, and Laurentian pictures like Piedmont (right), with its rail fence and its delicate leafless trees. There is a nice even quality in the latter, the various elements satisfactorily disposed and harmonized [with] a robust color and rhythm – the earth an acid lemon yellow…

Marrow Flowers 1939; watercolour on paper; 37×50 cm; The Mann Art Gallery

Atlantic Nocturne with its stormy sunset, is a semi- abstraction which paves the way for Tinning’s interpretations of music. There are some good ones in the current show… they make me think the young painter would be happy doing decor and costumes for the ballet. I like him best when he is freest, yielding to his feeling for color and movement. By the way, you mustn’t miss his Marrow Flowers in the other room…”