Worker and Child Edvard Munch Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Worker and Child is a 1908 Expressionist painting by artist Edvard Munch. It was created during a period in his career when his lifelong mental health struggles were particularly pronounced, a fact which is reflected in the somber tone of the piece.

The painting is currently displayed at the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway. Worker and Child is both typical of and distinct from Munch's usual works. Munch often depicted children in his paintings, and most of the time, those children would be alone in the painting or in the company of other youths. This painting stands in direct contrast to that established pattern, as the child in this scene stands in the company of many adults. However, there is a strong sense of distance between the child and the workers around her. Art historians note that the central worker depicted here (likely the little girl's father) wears a black mourning band on his right arm. This likely indicates that the girl's mother has passed away and that the worker has been left to raise the child alone.

This detail gives the work important context that furthers its meaning. With this addition, the worker is now torn between two worlds: his life as a labourer and his life as a father. The bold mauve stroke that runs along the ground behind him underscores this idea, dividing the scene between the other workers and the father and daughter. Even as the child runs up to the titular worker, arms raised in a silent plea to be held and comforted, the worker steps backwards as if preparing to rejoin his colleagues on the other side of the line. He is also depicted in the same dark colours and vague, ill-defined shapes as the rest of the workers, which contrasts sharply with the bright colours and relatively detailed appearance of the child.

By necessity, the worker is forced to prioritize his career over actively raising his daughter, leaving the child emotionally isolated. Her bright yellow hat draws the viewer's eye in the midst of the painting's generally muted palette, which draws attention to the fact that her face cannot be seen. She is turned away from the viewer and toward the father who cannot embrace her. In placing his figures this way, Munch aligns the viewer with the girl's perspective; we see the same dark, distant figures that she does, and we know that she will not find the comfort she seeks among them. Even in company, she is alone.

Ultimately, Worker and Child builds on some of the ideas that Edvard Munch explored in his earlier paintings of children and childhood. The image evokes a strong feeling of abandonment and loneliness that is distinct from being physically apart from others. Rather than physical distance, it is emotional and logistical hurdles (like grief and the demands of work life) that keep this parent and child duo apart from each other. The two may spend their entire lives working to bridge the gap between them and still never succeed; this, Munch seems to suggest, is one of the tragedies of the human condition.