The Sick Child

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Edvard Munch
Norwegian, 1863-1944

The Sick Child, 1894

Drypoint in black on cream wove paper
361 x 272 mm (image); 386 x 292 mm (plate); 483 x 344 mm (sheet)
Clarence Buckingham Collection, 1963.318

Woll 7 VI/VII; Schiefler 7

The intimate dramas playing out in this gallery draw their emotional power from the vulnerability of the exposed human form. Featured in these voyeuristic prints and drawings are private scenes of tragedy, tenderness, and horror, as artists intruded upon such previously forbidden settings as the bedroom, the deathbed, and the crime scene. While Félix Vallotton’s Intimacy woodcuts address the theme of undressing, with John Sloan’s playful Turning Out the Light and Gustav Klimt’s Seated Woman verging into the erotic, other images depict serious illnesses and the deaths of family members, especially children, which were commonplace events throughout the 19th century.

Making an explicit connection between sex and death is Otto Dix’s Murder, which pairs a bloody corpse with two dogs in the act of copulation. The Northern European artists Käthe Kollwitz and Edvard Munch drew on personal experiences for their devastating images of loss, seen here in stark scenes of grief. Kollwitz and the caricaturist Honoré Daumier (in an unusually somber mood) used similar iconographies of partially exposed corpses to make political statements: Daumier criticized the contemporary French government’s excessive response to a lower class riot in his Rue Transnonian, while Kollwitz drew on her own socialist sympathies in evoking war horrors in Raped, part of her series about the disastrous 1525 German Peasants’ War. The scattered feet of the family members in Daumier’s Transnonian and the nearly invisible child’s head to the left of Kollwitz’s splayed female body remind the viewer of these scenes’ universal themes.

— Exhibition text panel, Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy, June 22–September 29, 2013, Galleries 124–127.