The Waiting Room

Tooker, George

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Egg tempera on wood

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Dec-16-2008
  • Last revised: May-23-2012


On the viewer's right, in receding repetition, are narrow, numbered, blue wooden, open stalls.  Inside the stalls, and only partially visible, people are standing, dressed in street clothes, either alone or in couples, their coats still on.  In the most forward stall there are no people--only two coats that hang from coat hooks, their owners no longer "waiting."  The stalls are open at bottom and top and are illuminated by repeating fluorescent ceiling tubes.  In the lower right foreground sits a bald man dressed in a blue jacket and brown pants who looks down the narrow corridor from which the stalls branch off.  In the lower left foreground is a bench on which two men are dozing -- one man leans forward with his head tilted down, his face obscured by the hat he is wearing.  The other man has his eyes closed, his head tilted backwards.  Both are still wearing their coats.

Standing in front of the dozing men, all the way to the viewer's left, is a looming figure -- a man who stares out at the viewer, his thick glasses hiding his eyes, his mouth turned down in a suspicious frown.  He wears a dark blue coat and a brown hat.  Scraps of paper and possibly cigarette butts litter the floor in front of the sitting men. Blue is a prominent color in this painting but some of the figures wear bright red sweaters, shoes, or a dress, and a red scarf hangs from one of the hanging coats.  These individual touches of color seem to represent attempts by the sequestered people to preserve both their individuality and vitality.


We don't know where this waiting room is, but the impression it conveys it is one of anxiety, boredom, and anonymity.  People are distributed among numbered cubicles -- ciphers who are thrown together and at the mercy of someone or something for which they are consigned to wait.  They wait in separation from each other, unspeaking.  The lighting is harsh, the room untidy and uncomfortable.  This could be a doctor's office or a hospital waiting room, or any uncomfortable place where people are made to feel anonymous and at the beck and call of an unfeeling bureaucracy.  Tooker depicted waiting for a more specifically governmental bureaucracy in his painting, "The Government Bureau."  In that painting, the waiting people are reproduced several times to emphasize their anonymity, and the multiple bureaucrats peer out from frosted windows with only their eyes and noses visible -- bringing to mind the concept of the "medical gaze" promulgated by the French philosopher, Michel Foucault. Tooker's painting, "Ward," renders patients' anonymity and a sense of abandonment in the hospital setting--with government bureaucracy invoked by the American flags hanging on the wall (see p. 151 of Alternate Source below).


Dated 1969

Primary Source

George Tooker. Eds. Robert Cozzolino, Marshall N. Price, & M. Melissa Wolfe. (London & New York: Merrell) 2008, p. 137