Sick girls in Nordic art
Nordjyske Stiftstidende

Skagens Museum 8 May – 5 September 2021
‘Mother, do you see the angel by my side?
Do you hear the beautiful music? […],
I’m so tired! — must close my eyes
— mother — see! now the angel kisses me!’

Hans Christian Andersen, Det døende barn (The Dying Child), 1827 (excerpts)

The nineteenth century sees great changes within both art and science and several landmark discoveries are made. Moreover, it is a period characterised by diseases which were incurable at the time. A good many artists engage with portraying the flip side of society: disease being one of these. A common figure in artists’ portrayals of disease is a sick girl sitting in a chair or lying in a bed in an interior scene – often alone or surrounded by her closest family. The motif is not limited to a specific style, but emerges among genre painters, naturalists, impressionists, symbolists, and in works created by modernist artists after 1900. Although this motif is evident in the entire Western world at this time, some of the most striking works of sick girls are painted in the Nordic countries towards the close of the nineteenth century.

A central question posed by the exhibition is this: Why do sick girls become a notable motif in Nordic art during the last half of the nineteenth century? The exhibition shows works by artists such as Edvard Munch, Julius Exner, Jenny Nyström, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Eva Bonnier, Richard Bergh, Bertha Wegmann, and Michael Ancher.

The exhibition is based on a three-year research project supported by the New Carlsberg Foundation. The research project is a collaborative venture between the Art Museums of Skagen, The Hirschsprung Collection, and Aarhus University. The exhibition is organised in collaboration with The Hirschsprung Collection.

Edvard Munch Det syke barn. Efter 1925. Munchmuseet. Photo: CC BY 4 Munchmuseet. (Cropped)