Munch’s mother died from tuberculosis in 1868, when he was just five years old. His older sister, Sophia, died from the same disease nine years later. But this early distress didn’t deter him: Munch initially trained as an engineer at the Royal Technical College in Kristiania, dropping out after a year to become a painter instead. He studied at the Royal School of Art and Design in the same city, and in 1883 he made his debut at the local Industry and Art Exhibition. With encouragement from other artists and financial support from his community, he managed to exhibit in Antwerp and study in Paris in his early twenties—quickly establishing himself on the international scene.
Even then, his life was punctuated by death. The artist’s father, a military physician, passed away in 1889. No wonder, then, that much of Munch’s work often focused on loss. The Sick Child (painted in many versions, first in 1885) shows a woman kneeling at the bedside of a pale, red-haired girl, appearing to mourn an impending death. In The Dead Mother (also produced serially), a wan woman’s face protrudes from the bed sheets. A child, standing nearby, raises her hands to her head in what looks like despair or disbelief.