The Waiting Room

Media - 1969.47.43 - SAAM-1969.47.43_1 - 83152
Copied George Tooker, The Waiting Room, 1959, egg tempera on wood, 2430 in. (61.076.2 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1969.47.43

Artwork Details

The Waiting Room
2430 in. (61.076.2 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
Mediums Description
egg tempera on wood
  • Recreation — leisure — reading
  • State of being — other — waiting
  • Figure group
  • State of being — other — sleep
  • Architecture Interior — civic — railroad station
Object Number

Artwork Description

George Tooker grew frustrated with the bureaucracy while trying to obtain building permits for a house he bought in New York. He painted several images that show “faceless” government workers and run-down people getting nowhere (Garver, George Tooker, 1985). The clinical interior of The Waiting Room evokes the conformity of the 1950s and emphasizes the pale, drawn expressions on the figures. The people stand in numbered boxes, evoking ideas of standardization that force people into predefined categories. The man on the left appears to be in charge of the “sorting,” creating a sinister view of government scrutiny.

Luce Object Quote

“The Waiting Room is a kind of purgatory---people just waiting---waiting to wait. It is not living. It is a matter of waiting---not being one’s self. Not enjoying life, not being happy, waiting, always waiting for something that might be better---which never comes. Why can’t they just enjoy the moment?” The artist, quoted in Garver, George Tooker, 1985


Media - 1967.129 - SAAM-1967.129_1 - 65164
Artist to Artist
October 1, 2021September 3, 2023
Artist to Artist features paired artworks, each representing two figures whose trajectories intersected at a creatively crucial moment, whether as student and teacher, professional allies, or friends.