The only influences in The Sick Child were my home, my home was to my art as the midwife is to her children. I remember it well - those were the days of pillows, of sickbeds, of feather quilts. But I firmly believe that scarcely any of these painters has ever experienced the full grief of their subject as I did in The Sick Child. Because it was not just I who was suffering then: it was all my nearest and dearest as well."
(Edvard Munch to Jens Thiis, quoted in The Symbolist prints of Edvard Munch, Elizabeth Prelinger and Michael Parke-Taylor, Yale University Press, 1996)
The extract quoted above clearly demonstrates the extent to which Munch was traumatised by his early life, specifically the early deaths from tuberculosis of his mother in 1868, and his elder sister in 1877, when the artist was only fourteen. His experience of these events was so profound that he was compelled to work it out repeatedly in both painted and printed versions, and we are fortunate in being able to offer the two most important graphic interpretations here. His first attempt was the painting now in the National Gallery, Oslo, painted in 1885-86. He returned to the theme again 8 years later in drypoint (lot 138), one of his first attempts at printmaking. It closely resembles the oil, save for the fact that it is in reverse, and a landscape has been added below, perhaps symbolising a return to health of the invalid or conversely an idyllic scene that awaits her after death. Two years later, in 1896, Munch took it up again in his first colour lithograph (lot 137). He sharpened the focus by removing all extraneous detail - particularly the bedroom furniture and the grieving woman (although in early versions of this print a similar figure has been added in watercolour to the right.) All that remained was the gaunt face, flattened against an expanse of white suggesting the pillow, and the upper chest, the site of the diseased lungs. The gaze is now directed at a looming black form at the right, an unambiguous metaphor for the approach of death. By way of subtle reinforcement the only other element, not immediately recognisable, is a scythe-like motif snaking across the top of the image. Munch considered this his most successful print, one in which he stared unflinchingly at the demons that had haunted him since childhood.