The motif of the painting Inheritance from 1897 is based on an experience Munch had at a hospital in Paris.

In a waiting room he observed a tear-stained mother with her dying child on her lap. The child was infected with syphilis, a fatal venereal disease that can be passed from parent to child. Munch has portrayed the crying woman with a naked child on her lap. The bench and the notices on the wall tell us that she’s in a waiting-room.

The little child’s body is depicted with an abnormally large head, thin limbs, and a red rash on its chest. Children born with syphilis often had specific symptoms such as rashes and deformed bodies.

The pattern on the woman’s dress represents falling leaves, a symbol of death.

The use of the colours in this picture is also symbolic. The composition of the colours - red, green, black and white reappears in several of pictures with the theme of illness and death, as in the painting Death In The Sick Room from 1893.

The mother-and-child motif has strong associations with traditional portrayals of Mary and Jesus Christ.

The picture provoked strong reactions in Munch’s day. Munch boldly touched upon a number of taboos such as sexuality, venereal diseases, and even prostitution, and with this painting he overstepped the borders of what was considered appropriate.


  • Title: Inheritance
  • Creator Lifespan: 1863-12-12/1944-01-23
  • Creator Nationality: Norwegian
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Jarlsborgveien 14, Oslo. Norway
  • Creator Birth Place: Løten, Hedmark. Norway
  • Date Created: 1897/1899
  • Physical Dimensions: w1200 x h1410 mm
  • Painter: Edvard Munch
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: © Munch-museet/Munch -Ellingsen Gruppen/Bono

Additional Items

Inheritance (Supplemental)

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