Walter Richard Sickert

Study for ‘Ennui’


Not on display

Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Ink on paper
Support: 419 × 340 mm
frame: 605 × 505 × 20 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1960

Catalogue entry


Walter Sickert strongly believed in the process of painting from preparatory drawings and there are many drawn studies related to the evolution of the oil painting Ennui c.1914 (Tate N03846, fig.1). There are at least thirteen drawings relating to Tate’s version of the painting: five are in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, six belong to Leeds City Art Gallery and one is in a private collection.1 The last is this Study for ‘Ennui’, in Tate’s collection. There is, besides these, a fourteenth drawing in the collection of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, which Ruth Bromberg has identified as a working drawing for the first etched version of the image.2 It is impossible to ascertain the correct chronological sequence of the preparatory studies, but they can be grouped into three categories in order to understand the various roles played by drawing in Sickert’s development of the painted image. Tate’s drawing is a compositional sketch in ink, and falls into the third category.
The first group focuses on the corporeal arrangement of the male and female figures so crucial to the expression of the painting’s theme of alienation and degeneration. The pose of the models is the same in each drawing. The man, Hubby, is seated and smoking a cigar with the woman, Marie, standing behind him leaning on her arms slumped against the chest of drawers. However, close analysis of the separate images reveals a progressive fine tuning of the poses through subtle alterations in the positioning of the figures. For example, in Study for ‘Ennui’ (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford),3 a pen and ink drawing over black chalk, Hubby’s position, revealed through his head and shoulders, is upright and his right hand obscures much of the lower part of his face. Behind him, Marie stands as a separate entity with her left arm well clear from the top of his head. Her face is seen in profile with her mouth partially open. This pose is repeated in the early oil sketch, Ennui c.1913 (Rockingham Castle, formerly Cobbledick and Culme Seymour).4 Over the course of several drawings Sickert gradually modified the motif to create a more expressive relationship. In Study for ‘Ennui’ (Leeds City Art Gallery),5 Hubby and Marie seem to have sunk into their poses so they appear more weighed down by lassitude. Hubby has been tilted fractionally back while Marie leans further in towards him and her arm now occupies the same pictorial space as the top of his head. This pose is closer to that represented in the second oil sketch, Ennui c.1913 (The Royal Collection).6

Nicola Moorby
May 2004


See Nicola Moorby, ‘“A long chapter in the ugly tale of commonplace living”: The Evolution of Sickert’s Ennui’, in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004, pp.11–14; Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, nos.418.5–18.
Ruth Bromberg, Walter Sickert Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, pp.183–4; Baron 2006, no.418.7.
Ashmolean Museum, WA 1949.219. Reproduced in Whitworth Art Gallery 2004, (5.03, p.115); Baron 2006, no.418.17.
Baron 2006, no.418.1; reproduced in Whitworth Art Gallery 2004 (5.05, p.115).
Leeds City Art Gallery, 2.4/47. Baron 2006, no.418.9; reproduced in Whitworth Art Gallery 2004 (5.15, p.110).
Baron 2006, no.418.2; reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (80).
Ashmolean Museum, WA 1949.220. Baron 2006, no.418.18; reproduced in Whitworth Art Gallery 2004 (5.07).
Ashmolean Museum, WA 1949.221. Baron 2006, no.418.16; reproduced in Whitworth Art Gallery 2004 (5.08).
Leeds City Art Gallery, 23.1/51 (iv). Baron 2006, no.418.14; reproduced in Whitworth Art Gallery 2004 (5.09).
Leeds City Art Gallery, 23.1/51 (v). Baron 2006, no.418.15; reproduced in Whitworth Art Gallery 2004 (5.10, p.117).
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, undated [?1913], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.101.
Ashmolean Museum, WA 1943.95. Baron 2006, no.418.4; Whitworth Art Gallery 2004 (5.06).
Gabriel White, ‘Sickert Drawings’, in Sickert, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council, London 1977, p.37.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop