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Ennui, result 1 of 1

Item Details
Open Artstor
Available to everyone
Work Type
prints, etchings, works on paper
circa 1915
Image: 378 (height), 282 (length), Support: 552 (height), 395 (length), Other: 452 (height), 322 (length)

Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) was an English painter and printmaker who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century.

Sickert was a cosmopolitan and eccentric who often favoured ordinary people and urban scenes as his subjects. His work also included portraits of well-known personalities and images derived from press photographs. He is considered a prominent figure in the transition from Impressionism to Modernism. The famous crime novelist, Patricia Cornwell, has in recent years unconvincingly tried to prove that Sickert was the notorious serial murderer Jack the Ripper.

Printmaking was an extremely important part of Sickert's oeuvre. A comprehensive understanding and appreciation of his achievements here has only relatively recently become possible through the research of Aimee Troyen and Ruth Bromberg. Sickert learned the craft of etching from his mentor, James McNeill Whistler and over his lifetime produced at least 226 prints.

Sickert enjoyed living it up without always haveing the cashflow to do so, and in 1914 his straitened financial circumstances led to him brokering a deal with Arthur Clifton of the Carfax Gallery, London. In exchange for a fixed maintenance of '£200 per annum, the Carfax became Sickert's sole dealer and, in addition, the artist was commissioned to produce a series of sixteen etchings published exclusively by the gallery. With the exception of three prints, which were newly conceived designs created especially for the series, the Carfax etchings were based on his earlier paintings, drawings or earlier etchings. Te Papa owns two other works in the Carfax series, The Lion of St Mark, Venice, 1951-0003-21) and Quai Henri IV (1963-0002-1). Given the immediate success of his oil painting, Ennui (Tate) when it was first exhibited at the New English Art Club in the summer of 1914 and immediately purchased by the Contemporary Art Society, it is not surprising that Sickert decided to include an etched version in the Carfax series. However, he continued to revise the design and the print was later published by the Leicester Galleries.

Sickert produced three separate sized etched versions of his most famous image, Ennui: a large plate, a medium plate and a small plate. Te Papa's impression is a historically early and important version of the first state of the large plate and is inscribed 'before considerable rework'. The famous theme was a one that came from Sickert's imagination, but looks like an eminently convincing 'still' from a much later Harold Pinter or possibly even Mike Leigh production, of an alienated, ageing, lower middle class couple.

Sickert's two models were people he knew but who weren't married. The old man (whom Sickert called Hubby Hayes) leans back in his chair and draws on his cigar. His wife (Marie Hayes) leans against a chest of drawers. They deliberately look away from each other, clearly bored (hence the title 'Ennui') with and appear estranged after probably many years of enforced proximity. For Hubby Hayes, the cigar and large gin provide some consolation, but his wife has no such comforts and one senses has tried harder to keep their relationship alive.

The original painting of Ennui, in Tate Britain, greatly appealed to the famous author Virginia Woolf, who wrote admiringly:

...of the old publican, with his glass on the table before him and a cigar gone cold at his lips, looking out of his shrewd little pig's eyes at the intolerable wastes of desolation in front of him. A fat woman lounges, her arm on a cheap yellow chest of drawers, behind him. It is all over with them, one feels. The accumulated weariness of innumerable days has discharged its burden on them... The grimness of that situation lies in the fact that there is no crisis; dull minutes are mounting, old matches are accumulating and dirty glasses and dead cigars; still on they must go, up they must get.


Nicola Moorby, 'Walter Richard Sickert


Wikipedia, 'Walter Sickert',

Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art May 2018

Collection: Art
Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1961
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Image and original data provided by Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa
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