In this painting, Edvard Munch shows, as the center of attention, a stricken young girl, propped on a thick white pillow, covered with a heavy blanket, at the end of her short life. A grieving companion sits next to her, her head so deeply bowed that we can only see the top of her head, not her features. The companion is so overcome with grief that she can neither hold her head up, nor look at the dying girl. Only the young girl's haunting profile is visible, as she looks steadily toward a dark ominous drape, perhaps representing the unknown or the mystery of death. Her reddish hair appears thin, damp, and uncombed against the pillow.The two figures make contact by holding hands for comfort. The artist omits the details of fingers, and just indicates a simple connected shape for both hands. Striving for only simplified and essential forms, Munch enhanced each surface by impassioned brushstrokes, nuanced colors, and thick layers of impasto paint.


Done early in his career (Munch was only twenty-two), this is one of six paintings by Munch on the theme of the sick child; he also examined the same theme in lithograph, drypoint, and etching over the years. Munch continually returned to the subject of his sister Sophie's death.Perhaps it is Sophie when younger who is the model for the many versions of "Dead Mother and Child." See Death in the Sickroom (Ein Tod) and The Dead Mother (both annotated in this database).


This painting is dated 1885-86.
See also an annotation by Russell J. Teagarden  

Primary Source

National Gallery, Oslo, Norway