Edvard Munch - Evening & Day Editions London Wednesday, January 18, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “With the sick child I broke new ground – it was a breakthrough in my art….Most of what I have done since had its genesis in this picture”
    —Edvard Munch

    Captured in fleeting memories, Edvard Munch’s The Sick Child recalls the slow decline and untimely passing of the artist’s elder sister Johanne Sophie, who succumbed to Tuberculosis at age fifteen in 1877. Munch, who nearly died of tuberculosis himself as a boy, was riddled with guilt that he had been the one to survive while his sister was lost to the then incurable disease. After his mother had passed away from the same disease when Munch was just five years old, it was as if Tuberculosis was a constant threat to the family, haunting every winter.


    Driven by despair and trying to confront his feelings of loss, Munch drew on and returned to this deeply traumatic event as subject matter repeatedly throughout his life. Absorbed in grief, and likely feeling that he had failed in the impossible task of condensing all memories of his dying sister into a single picture, Munch completed six oil paintings of Sophie alongside numerous studies and works on paper between 1880 and 1920. Munch’s first painted version of The Sick Child was shown at the Annual Exhibition in Kristiania (Oslo) in 1886, when he was twenty-three years old. Met by both enthusiasm and criticism, the picture gained enough attention to mark Munch’s breakthrough as an artist.


    Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-86. Image: Bridgeman Images
    Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-86, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo. Image: Bridgeman Images

    Sophie is typically shown on her deathbed, often accompanied by a dark-haired woman, assumed to be her aunt Karen, standing grief-stricken at her side. In all of Munch’s paintings, Sophie is depicted lying in bed, obviously in pain and suffering, propped by large pillows, and looking towards a dark curtain likely intended to be a symbol of death: the veil between life and afterlife. The stark contrast of Sophie’s pallid complexion and red hair against the fresh white pillow envelopes her presence in a sickly atmosphere.


    When Munch started making prints, he quickly produced numerous versions of this motif. In his first etching, from 1894, Munch reproduced the image from his first painting, but added a miniature landscape underneath the motif itself, perhaps an allusion to the life his sister pined after. Most famously, the lithographic version crops the image to focus on his sister’s head. Depicted with great sensitivity and empathy, and reproduced in a number of colours, Munch retains his sister’s fading life throughout the series, keeping her complexion pale. In this etching, Munch focuses on his sister’s fine features and wild hair resting on her pillow. Paying attention to the details, a feat made possible by the fine tip of the etching needle, Munch captures those small movements that become so difficult when ill: the tired fluttering of eyelids; the lips that seem to whisper; and the little flicker of life that remains.


    Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, drypoint, 1894. Image: © National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Rosenwald Collection, 1944.14.61
    Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1894, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image: © National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Rosenwald Collection, 1944.14.61
    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Tokyo
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Gerd Woll 59.d
      Gustav Schiefler 60


The Sick Child (Det syke barn) (W. 59.d, S. 60)

Etching and drypoint, with surface tone, inked to the outer edge of the plate, on heavy cream wove paper, with trimmed margins.
I. 13.8 x 18.1 cm (5 3/8 x 7 1/8 in.)
S. 25 x 35.6 cm (9 7/8 x 14 in.)

Signed in pencil, a later impression printed by the artist or by Scheel, one of approximately 20 impressions, framed.

Full Cataloguing

£8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for £21,420

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 18 - 19 January 2023