Without Hope by Frida Kahlo

“Without Hope” by Frida Kahlo – A “Without Hope” Painting Analysis

Without Hope by Frida Kahlo is one of the paintings created by the artist when her pain, trauma, and emotional anguish were particularly terrible. It is during these difficult times that Frida Kahlo really drew strength from her art and used painting as a way to stay sane and herself. In this article, we will complete a brief Without Hope painting analysis.



Artist Abstract: Who Was Frida Kahlo?

Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) was a Mexican artist known for her symbolic and layered self-portraits which depict the physical and emotional pain she experienced throughout her life. She began painting after a bus accident in 1925 left her with injuries that required her to be bedridden for months. Her father, a professional photographer, gifted her a set of paints and during her recovery, she started spending more time with him in his studio and darkroom.

During her life-long struggle with the injuries she obtained in the crash and the results of polio which Kahlo suffered from in her childhood, she began to express herself through her art, which was heavily influenced by her Mexican heritage.

Without Hope Painting AnalysisFrida Kahlo (1932) by Guillermo Kahlo; Guillermo Kahlo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 When she was a young woman, she married the established Mexican mural painter Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957). Their stormy marriage was filled with infidelities, betrayal, and lies which led to even more pain on Kahlo’s side. The combination of this rocky relationship, several miscarriages, and their eventual acceptance that Kahlo would not be able to carry a child all became themes Kahlo explored in her passionate work. Kahlo’s paintings were not immediately recognized by the art world, it was not until her solo exhibition in Mexico City in 1953 that she gained recognition.

Her work was then included in the Venice Biennale in 1940 and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1939, which helped to bring her international recognition.



Without Hope by Frida Kahlo in Context

Date 1945
MediumOil on masonite
Type of PaintingAllegory
Movement Surrealism and Symbolism
Dimensions (cm)28 x 36
LocationCollection of Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, Mexico

Without Hope depicts a figure lying in a hospital bed with tubes and wires attached to them. It is a self-portrait that reflects Kahlo’s own experiences with physical and emotional pain. The painting was created during a time when Kahlo’s career was on the rise and Mexico was undergoing significant political and social changes.

Before we do a Without Hope painting analysis let us look at the personal, professional, and socio-political context within which Frida Kahlo created this painting.


Without Hope by Frida Kahlo in Context of Kahlo’s Life, Career, and the Mexican Socio-Political Situation

At the time Kahlo created Without Hope, she was part of a vibrant cultural scene in Mexico City. Mexico had just undergone a revolution in the early 1920s, which led to the formation of a new government that sought to promote a sense of national identity and pride. This was reflected in the arts, with a focus on indigenous and Mexican themes. Kahlo’s work fits well within this context, as it reflects the cultural and personal experience of a Mexican woman.

Two years before Frida Kahlo created Without Hope, she had painted herself in the same dry landscape of Pedregal, in a painting titled Roots (1943).

Diego and Frida had decided to take on a new project as both of them were feeling lost at that stage in their lives. They started building a museum of sorts to house Diego’s collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts. The painting Roots is symbolic of Frida’s connection to the land she donated to the Anahuacalli project, to Mexico, and to Diego. It is a hopeful and inspired painting.

Context of Without Hope by Frida KahloThe Broken Column (1944) by Frida Kahlo; Ambra75, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Only a couple of years later, this dream and connection had completely fallen apart. We see Kahlo again in the desolate landscape of Pedregal, but this time she is a patient lying trapped in a hospital bed. This painting was created at a time Kahlo could not sit or stand anymore. The Broken Column (1944) was created the year before Without Hope and also shows Kahlo’s battle with her physical impairments. At that point, Kahlo had spent five months in bed, unable to move, and then went for an operation that led to another two months of recovering in bed.



Without Hope Painting Analysis

Frida Kahlo’s works are often filled with symbolism, and the painting Without Hope is no exception. The figure in the painting is depicted as being bound by tubes and wires, representing the physical limitations that Kahlo faced as a result of her accident. The dark, gloomy atmosphere of the painting reflects the emotional pain and despair that Kahlo felt at the time of its creation.

Let us look at the compositional overview, subject matter, light and color use, perspective, and symbolism Frida Kahlo applied in creating this artwork. 


Compositional Overview

The composition of the painting is dominated by a central figure of a woman, who appears to be the artist herself, lying in a hospital bed with her eyes fixed on the viewer. The bed is placed in the center of the painting, taking up a large portion of the canvas. Around it is a desolate landscape and a bright, full moon and burning sun above the bed in the sky. Frida Kahlo is vomiting up her pain, fears, suffering, and other nightmarish images onto the easel she used to paint in bed. There is no canvas on the easel, only the volcano of strange imagery gushing out of her mouth. She is completely tucked into bed – immovable – with only her head and one naked shoulder exposed.


Subject Matter

The subject matter of the painting is clearly one of physical and emotional pain. It represents Kahlo’s mental and spiritual state after being in bed for months and needing to deal with more health complications. The woman in the painting appears to be suffering, and the hospital setting suggests that she is in the midst of a medical crisis. The painting also evokes themes of isolation and despair. The woman is alone in the space, with no one else present to offer her comfort or support. She is almost pleading to the viewer with her gaze for only a morsel of hope or comfort.

Furthermore, the painting is about how Kahlo will continue to retch her pain onto her canvases. The theme of the painting is, therefore, kind of meta as it is about the artist’s painting process and how she uses it to stay lucid while dealing with what seemed to her like fated torture.


Color and Light

In terms of color and light, the painting is quite dark and somber. The background is a deep blue, gray, and purple which contrasts sharply with the bright red of Frida’s twisted entrails. The use of these colors adds to the sense of despair and hopelessness in the painting. The light in the painting is also quite dim and diffuse, adding to the sense of isolation and loneliness.



The texture of the painting is quite detailed and realistic. The brushstrokes are thick and visible, giving the painting a sense of depth and realism. The details in the woman’s face and the hospital bedding are finely rendered, adding to the sense of realism in the painting.



The perspective in the painting is quite unique, as we are seeing a private scene in the middle of a vast landscape. This sense of disorientation is reinforced by the use of deep space in the background of the painting.



The symbolism in the painting is quite powerful. The hospital setting and the tears rolling down Kahlo’s face suggest intense suffering and utter helplessness. The use of deep space in the background suggests that the woman is completely alone and isolated – in her pain, her mental state, and her hopelessness.

The directed gaze and the title Without Hope create a visual plea as if Kahlo is urging the onlooker to do something about her pain.

Even if it is just to witness it so that she does not have to face its maddening continuity alone. The round sun and moon in the sky are also symbols of the days and days Kaho had to spend unmoving with her pain.  Among the strange array of fish, cooked chicken, and a lamb Kahlo is vomiting onto her easel, there is a Mexican candied skull. This skull offers some familiarity and another source of strength for Kahlo – her connection to her beloved Mexico.



A Life-Long Relationship With Pain

During her life Frida Kahlo suffered physical pain so often that Dr. Eloesser was convinced she had a mental disorder that led her to get pleasure out of being the center of attention. This theory is strangely reflected in The Broken Column (1944) where Kahlo combined equal parts suffering and eroticism, pain, and beauty. However, nauseating paintings like Without Hope tells a different story of the artist’s relationship with pain. And, indeed, years after her death the psychiatrist Claude Wiart argued that Kahlo’s various struggles with health and physical mobility could all be traced back to a malformation of her spine that developed while she was still in her mother’s womb.

Influence of Without Hope Painting AnalysisFrida Kahlo aged 11 ( 1919) by Guillermo Kahlo; Guillermo Kahlo (October 26, 1871 – April 14, 1941) – Photographer Born in Baden, Germany. Died in Mexico City, Mexico. Google Art Projectでのアーティストの詳細, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Taking this into account, as well as Kahlo’s behavior when she was suffering as an adult (refusing treatment until her sister was there to hold her hand, or the lullabies Rivera sang to her in the hospital bed), we cannot help but wonder whether Kahlo’s relationship with pain was a manifestation of the above-mentioned reasons, as well as the abandonment she suffered as a young child by a depressive mother leaving her to talk care of her younger siblings.


In conclusion, Without Hope by Frida Kahlo is a powerful representation of the emotional despair and anguish that the artist experienced throughout her life. The painting was created during a time when Kahlo’s career was on the rise and Mexico was undergoing significant political and social changes. Her work reflects the cultural and personal experience of a Mexican woman, and it fits well within the context of a Mexico that was seeking to promote a sense of national identity and pride through the arts. It is a timeless piece that continues to resonate with people today, as it speaks to the universal human experience of pain and suffering.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Meaning of Without Hope (1945) by Frida Kahlo?

Without Hope is a powerful painting that evokes themes of physical and emotional pain, isolation, and despair experienced by Kahlo when she was suffering from health complications. The composition, subject matter, color, light, texture, perspective, and symbolism all work together to create a sense of hopelessness and despair that is both poignant and deeply moving. The painting serves as a testament to the emotional turmoil that Frida Kahlo experienced throughout her life due to the numerous operations and treatments she had to receive.


How Was Without Hope (1945) by Frida Kahlo Received by the Public and Critics?

It is not clear how Without Hope was received by the public and critics when it was first exhibited, as it was not widely exhibited during Frida Kahlo’s lifetime. However, her work in general was not well-received by critics when it was first exhibited. Her paintings only began to receive significant attention after her death, and today, they are considered to be some of the most important and innovative artworks of the 20th century.


Cite this Article

Nicolene, Burger, ““Without Hope” by Frida Kahlo – A “Without Hope” Painting Analysis.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. April 13, 2023. URL: https://artfilemagazine.com/without-hope-by-frida-kahlo/

Burger, N. (2023, 13 April). “Without Hope” by Frida Kahlo – A “Without Hope” Painting Analysis. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. https://artfilemagazine.com/without-hope-by-frida-kahlo/

Burger, Nicolene. ““Without Hope” by Frida Kahlo – A “Without Hope” Painting Analysis.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, April 13, 2023. https://artfilemagazine.com/without-hope-by-frida-kahlo/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *