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The Sick Girl
  • Artist Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863 - 1944)
  • TitleThe Sick Girl
  • Dating 1896
  • Technique/MaterialOil on canvas
  • Dimensions121,5 x 118,5 cm
  • AcquisitionPurchase, 1933
  • CategoryOil painting
  • Inventory NumberGKM 0975
  • Display StatusOn display in Nordic Art 1880-1910 II (Room 22)
Signatures etc.
Exhibition History
The Sick Girl (1896) harkens back to his sister Sophie’s death from tuberculosis in 1877 at the age of 15. A girl sits upright in a chair, her thin body supported on a large white pillow. She turns her bright, almost transparent face to the right, where a woman with dark clothes and black hair—perhaps the girl’s mother—is seated, her head lowered. The girl rests her right hand on the green blanket while the woman raises her tightly clenched fist to her daughter. The girl’s red hair curls close around the head. She seems weak from illness. Yet it is she who has drawn herself up, a radiant, almost saintly figure, while the woman, failing to hide her grief, has collapsed into a dark shadow. The motif is blurrily done in greenish-blue colours with a tangle of brushstrokes and lines drawn in the paint, while the canvas’s surface is emphasized by large, summary forms, partially outlined.

Although The Sick Girl reflected Munch’s personal background, there are plenty of examples of other artists who worked on similar subjects, including Christian Krohg. The prevalence of tuberculosis meant that illness and death at a young age were not unusual. As a motif, it lent itself to incorporation in social-realist statements. Yet where other painters observed the naturalistic conventions of the times, Munch teased out a vibrant vision with strong emotional impact.

He revisited the motif six times over a number of years. The first, done in 1885–6, was exhibited at the Autumn Exhibition in Kristiania in 1886. In subsequent versions, which shared the same composition, the brushwork became freer, the colours and the contrast were increased, and the forms softened. The version in the Gothenburg Museum of Art was painted in Paris in 1896 at the request of the Norwegian collector and patron Olaf Schou. Munch still had the first version in his studio to work from. This second painting is more fluid, with stronger contrasts than the first. Possibly Munch is showing the influence of recent French developments—as with the Impressionists, the motif is more suggested than presented, and as with Synthetists, the volume of the forms is stressed in large, well-defined fields. Schou donated the painting to the National Gallery in Oslo, which in 1931 traded it for the first version. The Gothenburg Museum of Art was able buy Schou’s Paris version for 18,000 kronor in 1933.

Kristoffer Arvidsson from The Collection Gothenburg Museum of Art, Gothenburg 2014