|The Sick Child||Death in the Sickroom|
These two paintings by the famous Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) reflect his lifelong melancholia and obsession with sickness and death. This has been attributed to his childhood experiences of his father’s drifting towards insanity, his mother’s death from tuberculosis, and the later death of two siblings from the same disease. Melancholia affected the artist throughout his life, exacerbated by overwork and alcohol abuse, leading in 1908 to a nervous breakdown which was treated in a hospital by electroconvulsive therapy. Yet he lived to the ripe age of eighty-one and is remembered as one of the great painters of his time.
The Sick Child (on the left) is one of a series of paintings recording the death of Munch’s sister Sophie. She is shown sitting in a chair and propped up by a large pillow, suffering and perhaps in pain, holding the hand of her distraught older sister who cannot bear to look at her. In Death in the Sickroom (on the right), the dying patient is also in a chair, facing a despairing doctor who wrings his hands, while several grieving relatives in the foreground complete the somber scene.
GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief