Henry J Simpkins, R.C.A – Master Draftsman, Watercolor Painter

Henry J Simpkins

My grandfather Henry J Simpkins 1906-1995 studied at the Winnipeg school of fine art under Franz Johnston and Lemoine Fitzgerald who later joined the group of seven. In his early years Henry worked as a commercial artist in London then New York before returning to Canada as an illustrator for Grip and Batten.

He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art and at the Montreal Art Association winning the Jessie Dow Price award for his watercolors  in 1932 and 1934. A very prestigious award at the time the Dow Price award was the TOP award you could receive at the time in Canadian art.  Henry was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy of Art in 1936 and became a full member in 1971.

Although Henry was famous for his watercolor he also did many oils and would not leave home without his sketch pad. He specialized in Quebec scenes, sugar shacks, horses, barns ad rural landscapes. An independent artist who was very successful when he exhibited  in galleries such as Walter Klinkhoff, Continental, Masters, Manuge, Wallack, Wallace and The Kennedy Gallery in New York.

I don’t remember too much about my grandfather, he moved out west to live with his daughter Dinny when I was around 9yrs old. What I do remember about him was his way of peering through his glasses hanging off his nose, always silently sketching away as my sister and I played at his house with our dolls or watched tv.

Henry & Ron - Father and Son

Henry’s horses became world renowned! His horse scenes are my absolute favourite!  Gramps would follow his other granddaughter Sue to her horse shows with a sketch pad in hand always ready to capture the next scene.

My grandfather had exceptional talent as an illustrator and that carried over to his water colors a medium that does not allow any room for error. He was commissioned by the Hudson bay company to do many of their calendars and for Seagram’s as well. One of gramps claim to fame is doing the original captain Morgan on the Rhum bottle.

Henry would take many painting trips with his son my dad across Canada painting various wildlife scenes, boats in the harbor, barns, horses, the Calgary stampede, portraits, you name it, no scene was off limits. “Always striving to bring nature to life” was his motto.

His famous scenes also include sugar shacks, you know back in the day when they used to go out with the horses and a sleigh to collect the sap. His paintings are luscious with life and precise.  Gramps paintings are of the “good ol days” before Tv existed.

I also found in his collection various “time” pieces reflecting what was happening in his time. There’s a painting of a white boy holding a chocolate ice cream cone and a black boy holding a vanilla one side by side for example. Another painting of the harbor of Montreal in the 1930’s yet another more religious scene with Jesus and his disciples. I feel that my grandfathers work was very eclectic and captured beautifully the 1930-1970’s era.









One Man Shows

  • Watson Art Gallery – 1935
  • Watson Art Gallery – 1937
  • Walter Klinkhoff Gallery -1969
  • Wallack Gallery  – 1971
  • Wallack Gallery –  1973
  • Kastel Gallery – 1973
  • Wallack Gallery – 1975
  • Houston Texas (with Ron) – 1977
  • Walter Klinkhoff Gallery- 1978
  • Walter Klinkhoff Gallery – 1981


Sketching Trips

  • Lake of the Woods-……1926,
  • Canadian Rockies…. 1927, 1957
  • Nova Scotia……….1935, 1957, 1976, 1977, 1978
  • Grand Mannan Island ………….1968
  • West Coast Canada………..1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980
  • Newfoundland……………..1971, 1977
  • Ontario…………….1979
  • Manitoba………1945, 1975 to 1981
  • British Isles……….1921, 1968, 1973, 1975, 1978
  • Arizona…………..1977


Corporate Collectors Include

  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Canadian Pacific Railway
  • Bank of Montreal
  • Telephone Pavillion Expo
  • General Trust Company
  • Merchantile Bank
  • City District bank
  • Seagrams
  • Montreal Shipping


Henry illustrated the “history of the Bank of Montreal” and painted a mural for the Telephone Pavillion at Expo 1967.