Analysis of Edvard Munch's "The Sick Child" (pt 1)

Edvard Munch led a life that was by no means considered easy, especially at the beginning. His emotional pain led to him painting The Scream. This is a very widely known painting, even today, in the 21st century. If you showed it to the average person, they'd know it by name. They might even know the painter. What a lot of people don't know, however, is that Munch has many other works, many of which are drenched in just as much emotion as The Scream is. The painting that sticks out, and will be discussed today, is The Sick Child. The Sick Child is an oil painting done in Norway by Edvard Munch. The first rendition of it was done in 1896. It features a young girl with red hair looking out the window, resigned, as an older woman cries at her side. As part of his creative process, Munch tended to redo paintings over and over until he believed they were just right. For example, there are four different versions of The Scream (Paulson). The Sick Child is no exception to this, being redone over six times in oil paint and other mediums. He wanted to make sure that this painting conveyed his emotions perfectly, that he took every bit of emotion possible and put it into this work. Edvard Munch's The Sick Child is an extremely emotional painting full of grief and anguish, and the artist used painting this piece over and over as a way to get past the untimely deaths of several of his relatives. This piece's name was originally in Norwegian, and in this language it's called “Det Syke Barn” (“The Sick Child, 1885 by Edvard Munch”). Munch ended up redoing this painting over and over again throughout the rest of his career (Heer), to process his feelings of grief and love toward his sister and to make sure that everything about it was right. Edvard Munch's life definitely influenced this piece a lot. At the time that his sister Sophie, the child in the painting, died, he was only 14 years old (Heer), yet he had already been through unimaginable trauma. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was only five years old (“The Sick Child”), and his sister was dying of it now. She was just fifteen and should have had many years left. Munch himself had tuberculosis when he was young, but was able to overcome it. The artist ended up being glad he had such a tumultuous childhood, though. He later said, “Without fear and illness, my life would have been a boat without a rudder” (Heer). Without the sickness and trauma, the artist would not have been able to make so many works that have so much emotion in them. They fueled his work for many years, but first he had to get started. It wasn't until 1886 that Munch revisited his sister's death for the first time, venturing to paint it to try to get his feelings out and work through the trauma that he'd been through. He ended up reworking the painting several times for over 40 years (“The Sick Child, 1885 by Edvard Munch”), trying to get it just right, but many of these renditions are very similar to one another, with just small parts changed. The background of the work is dark in all renditions. The lightest parts are always right in the center, where the subject is lying in her bed. This shows that she had a lot of life in her, even though she was dying. She is very clearly the focal point of this image, her bright orange-ish hair contrasting the dark green background. Her hair seems almost to be glowing. She was the light in Edvard Munch's life and it was devastating to him to see his older sister die. He wanted to highlight the fact that she was still alive in this painting. Referring to the painting, Munch said, “What I wanted to bring out―is that which cannot be measured―I wanted to bring out the tired movement in the eyelids―the lips must look as though they are whispering―she must look as though she is breathing―I want life―what is alive” (Heer). She was still alive, and he wanted to highlight this, the sense of hope he felt even as she was clearly very ill. He painted her with a very neutral expression, even though the person next to her is very clearly in a lot of emotional pain. At this point she has resigned herself to her fate. Sophie, the subject of the painting, is looking toward the window, which is dark. This is seen as another sign of her being resigned to her death. The window has no light, showing that her life is coming to an end; there is no more light in her life (Heer). The woman next to her, who is believed to be their Aunt Karen, taking care of the children after their mother's untimely death, is in dark clothes, representing mourning (“The Sick Child”). She is very upset at her niece's death, even more so than Sophie is about dying, it seems. Munch wanted to capture Sophie's feelings in this painting, his sister being brave in her last moments.

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