press release

"The Sick Child" from 1885-86 is one of the best known and most frequently discussed and analysed of all Edvard Munch's works. The painting was first shown at the Third National Exhibition (the National Annual Autumn Exhibition) in 1886 with the title "Studie" (Study). That exhibition was held at the National Gallery, and in the interim the work has become a central feature of the museum's collection. Apart from a few years during World War II, the work has always been prominently on display.

With all the success of a scandal, the painting was intensely criticised, but also appreciated, admired and discussed. In the 19th century, such controversial and much-debated artworks formed a kind of ideal for radical artists. Painters such as Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet set precedents in the way they broke with tradition and challenged established taste. In turning away from academic idealism and the dominant salon style of the day, such artists were effectively probing aesthetic norms and conventions. This attitude found support in Christiania's art circles, especially among the naturalists headed by Christian Krohg, Erik Werenskiold and Frits Thaulow.

"The Sick Child" is commonly regarded as Munch's breakthrough. It anticipates central aspects of his later work and gained him a position as one of the most notable and controversial artists in Norway in his day. The orientation away from true-to-life depiction of the world and of what is seen became a central trait of European art towards the end of the 19th century. With its combination of a captivating motif and its free and abstract use of form and painting techniques, Munch's picture is an early example of a more subjective type of expression.

The ailing child was a popular theme among artists in the years when Munch painted his picture. Munch himself described the period as "the age of the pillow". Both Krohg and Hans Heyerdahl painted popular and highly acclaimed scenes with sick and dying children. These works are part of the background for Munch's picture.

The importance of "The Sick Child" was recognised from the outset, and as early as 1886 it was being described as a masterpiece. Munch returned to the motif later in his career, creating many different versions using a wide variety of techniques. With six paintings and a large number of works on paper produced over a period of almost 40 years, it is among the themes he explored most frequently.

The curator of the exhibition is Øystein Ustvedt

Edvard Munch: The Sick Child. The History of a Masterpiece
Kurator: Oystein Ustvedt
The National Gallery