In June 1914 the art connoisseur, collector and curator of the Holbourne Museum, Bath, Hugh Blaker (1873–1936), published a letter in the Observer highlighting the display at the New English Art Club of one of ‘the finest pictures painted in England in recent times ... It is one of those precious things the ultimate destination of which is a public gallery, and I suggest that the [Chantrey Bequest] trustees give it their serious consideration.’1 Blaker was not alone in his admiration of the work which was almost immediately purchased for the nation, not under the auspices of the Chantrey Bequest but through the Contemporary Art Society. This painting, eventually presented to the Tate Gallery in 1924, was Ennui, which has become the most well-known and widely discussed image of Sickert’s oeuvre.
The basis for the reputation of Ennui is somewhat unclear. As the art historian Wendy Baron has pointed out, Tate’s version of Ennui is uncharacteristic of Sickert’s work during this period because of its large size. Part of its fame can certainly be attributed to the multiple versions of the image. Tate’s painting is considered to be the principal manifestation of the subject, and is also the largest and most highly finished example. However, the familiarity of the picture rests with a further four painted versions, a host of drawings and preparatory studies and three etched plates in various sizes, indicating that Sickert himself considered it an important subject worthy of repetition. Although it is not possible to ascertain the exact date order of the paintings, Baron has argued that two appear to be small preliminary oil studies for Tate’s version dating from 1913.2 Both of these, Ennui c.1913 (Royal Collection)3 and Ennui c.1913 (James Saunders Watson, Rockingham Castle, formerly in the possession of Dr A.S. Cobbledick),4 are broadly executed, cropped studies showing the same male and female figures but omitting the table in the foreground. A further Ennui (private collection)5 is a small oil on canvas inscribed by Sickert to the French painter Maurice Asselin (1882–1947) and dated 1916. The composition is adapted from Tate’s earlier, large painting and shows the seated male with the figure of the woman, visible only to the shoulders, behind him.
Social realism and influence
Scale and legacy
Hugh Blaker, ‘The Chantrey Bequest’, Observer, 14 June 1914.
Wendy Baron, Sickert, London 1973, p.357.
Reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (80); Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.418.2.
Reproduced in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004, no.5.05; Baron 2006, no.418.1.
Reproduced in Modern British and Irish Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Sotheby’s, London, 20 November 1991 (lot 112); Baron 2006, no.418.3.
Baron 2006, no.418.4.
Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: A History of the Camden Town Group, Aldershot and Vermont 2000, p.98.
Royal Academy 1992, p.232.
Richard Shone, Walter Sickert, Oxford 1988, p.56.
David Peters Corbett, Walter Sickert, London 2001, p.34.
Virginia Woolf, Walter Sickert: A Conversation, London 1934, pp.13–14.
‘The New English Art Club’, Observer, 31 May 1914.
Baron 1973, p.142.
Walter Sickert, ‘The Language of Art’, New Age, 28 July 1910, p.300, in Anna Gruetzner Robins, Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p.264.
Reproduced in Corbett 2001, p.37.
William Rothenstein, Men and Memories: Recollections of William Rothenstein 1872–1900, London 1931, pp.167–8.
Baron 1973, p.142.
Seán Desmond Healy, Boredom, Self and Culture, London and Toronto 1984, p.18.
Reinhard Kuhn, The Demon of Noontide: Ennui in Western Literature, Princeton, New Jersey 1976, p.13.
Patricia Meyer Spacks, Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind, Chicago and London 1995, p.12.
Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil, trans. by James McGowan, Oxford and New York 1993, pp.6–7.
Reproduced in Eric Shanes, Impressionist London, New York and London 1994, p.57, as In a Café.
Reproduced in Matthew Sturgis, Passionate Attitudes: The English Decadence of the 1890s, London 1995, between pp.212–13.
‘Mr Walter Sickert’, Athenæum, 24 July 1920.
Aberdeen Journal, 25 September 1915.
Morning Post, 4 May 1915.
‘New English Art Club’, Pall Mall Gazette, May 1914.
Marjorie Lilly, Sickert: The Painter and his Circle, New Jersey 1973, p.47.
Walter Sickert, letter to Nan Hudson and Ethel Sands, undated [Summer 1914], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.8.
Lilly 1973, p.47.
For more on this, see William Rough, ‘Walter Sickert and Contemporary Drama’, The Camden Town Group, Tate 2011, http://www
.tate .org .uk.
Quoted in Judy Egerton, Hogarth’s Marriage à-la-Mode, London 1997, p.13.
Reproduced in Modern British and Irish Paintings and Drawings, Sotheby’s, London, 2 May 1990 (lot 48); Baron 2006, no.419.
Reproduced in Modern British and Irish Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Sotheby’s, London, 2 October 1996 (lot 56); Baron 2006, no.421.
Reproduced in Anna Gruetzner Robins, Walter Sickert: Drawings, Aldershot and Vermont 1996, fig.48.
Sir Claude Phillips, ‘Carfax Gallery’, Daily Telegraph, 13 November 1915.
Kuhn 1976, pp.12–13.
Stella Tillyard, ‘The End of Victorian Art: W.R. Sickert and the Defence of Illustrative Painting’, in Brian Allen (ed.), Towards a Modern Art World, New Haven and London 1995, p.195.
Reproduced in Egerton 1997, p.20.
Reproduced in Kuhn 1976, p.278.
Susan Sidlauskas, Body, Place and Self in Nineteenth-Century Painting, Cambridge and New York 2000, pp.128, 139 and reproduced in Allen (ed.) 1995, fig.36.
Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec: London and Paris 1870–1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2005, p.199, reproduced fig.55.
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, undated, Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.103.
Baron 1973, pp.141–4.
Reproduced in Baron 1973, no.308, fig.217.
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, undated, Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.101.
Royal Academy 1992, p.232.
Reproduced ibid., no.82.
Baron 2006, p.409.
Reproduced in Mervyn Levy, Ruskin Spear, London 1985, p.41.