The Dead Mother

Munch, Edvard

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Aug-14-1996
  • Last revised: Jun-28-2006


With her back turned to her mother who lies in bed, dead, a young girl, eyes wide in disbelief, holds her hands to her ears as if to block out the reality and the stillness. An aura of suspension, incomprehensibility, or unearthly silence begs the question: is she truly calm, or screaming on the inside?


Munch's mother died of tuberculosis when he was five years old. Alternate and earlier versions entitled "Dead Mother and Child" depict the young child's isolation (even when other mourners are present), her eyes wilder, and her face unmistakably distorted in grief or anxiety, approximating the posture of The Scream (see this database for annotation of The Scream). Perhaps this pose shows how grieving youngsters dose themselves. Denial is not a dirty word. It is adaptive coping.

Editor's Note: For further relevant discussion of Munch's work, see Judith Stillion's essay, "Death and Grief Made Visible: The Life and Work of Edvard Munch," in "Grief and the Healing Arts: Creativity as Therapy", ed. Sandra Bertman, pp. 289-301, annotated in this database.


Painted 1899-1900.

Primary Source

Kunsthalle, Bremen