Notes on Composition in ‘Ennui’ by Walter Sickert Essay
Ennui, by Walter Sickert, portrays the unhappiness and emotional distance between a married couple. This is mostly done by the composition of the painting. The physical nearness of the two figures suggests an intimate connection between them – such as marriage – whilst their complete lack of engagement and their disassociation for one another creates an atmosphere of loneliness, indifference and isolation. This is furthered by the colour palette in the painting: muted browns and beige with yellow, which gives the viewer the impression that the room is filled with an unhealthy air.
The room seems to be lit by artificial light because of the shine from the man’s forehead, and brightness of the back wall, which makes me think that the scene took place in the evening, whilst the man and woman retired to their sitting room together, only to show complete detachment from each other. The furniture encloses and encircles the figures, giving a sense of imprisonment and claustrophobia. They seem hemmed into their domestic space – which the stuffed caged birds on the chest of draws echo.
The table is in the foreground and the objects on it – a matchbox and pint glass – have been given prominence because of the emptiness of the table. Ennui translates as “boredom” – and the atmosphere is one of that and also of fatigue. The man is reclining on a chair, perhaps after a long day, and is staring into space, making no connection with the woman. Likewise, the woman seems indifferent and has her back turned from the man, gazing at the wall where a painting we can only partially see, hangs.
There are also many geometric shapes in the painting. The circular table in the foreground, the chest of draws pushed up against the wall on the left, and the rectangular painting – the only object on the wall. The verticals where the 2 walls meet, the high table stalk with an oil lamp on it, the draws meet, and the hanging portrait and all parallel to each other, suggesting that the room is empty (as nothing is obscuring these things) & that the domestic space is kept very tidy.