The Sick Child

Munch, Edvard

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell
  • Date of entry: Nov-08-2016
  • Last revised: Nov-08-2016


Edvard Munch’s painting, The Sick Child, hanging in the Tate in London, England is his fourth version of the painting. This version is done in oil on canvas and was completed in 1907. The first version was painted in 1885.  

As we come upon this painting, we quickly realize we are standing at the end of a bed intruding upon a poignant moment. In this impressionistic painting, we can discern an adolescent girl propped up in bed. She is facing an older woman sitting at her side. We don’t see this woman’s face because her chin is on her chest in a way that makes her look distraught. We can easily conclude that she is the girl’s mother and that the girl is sick, very sick.

When we look around the room with the view Munch gives us, we see little in the way of medical supplies or equipment. There is only a bottle on a nightstand that might be some potion and a glass of water on a dresser. Nothing more is to be done for this child. She seems to know it and so she tries to comfort the woman who is attending her. The painting reminds the viewer that often those who are dying offer comfort to the ones attending them as well.


The girl in this painting is Edvard Munch’s older sister. They were only a year apart. The woman is not the girl’s mother;  she is the girl’s aunt. Their mother had died from tuberculosis about 10 years before, and now Munch’s sister was to die of the disease at the age of 15.  

Munch put a particular focus on poor health and its consequences, as he himself was deeply familiar with both. “Illness, insanity and death were the black angels that hovered over my cradle,” is how he put it according to his biographer Sue Prideaux. Several members of his family, not just his mother and sister, suffered from serious health problems. Many of his paintings that involve health problems show both the people who are sick and the people around them who worry and fear the worst. In rendering illness experiences in his paintings, Munch expands the view beyond the person suffering from illness to those who suffer with them, and how they can help each other.


See also an annotation by Sandra Bertman

Primary Source

Tate Modern, London UK