Without Hope – The Torture of Frida

Title: Without Hope (Sin Esperanza)

Author:  Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón (Born, Mexico, 13 July 1907 – Died, Mexico, 2 July 1954 )

Date: 1945

Genre: Portrait art

Movement: Surrealism

Technique: Oil painting

Support: Canvas on masonite

Dimension: 11 x 14 in. (28 x 36 cm)

Location: Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico

Frida Kahlo is an iconic Mexican artist whose work is always full of passion, anxiety, suffering. “Without Hope” is just one of them dated 1945 that needs to be checked out for many symbols and stories behind it. The artwork resides in the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico, today.

So without further ado, let’s get to know Frida’s this great work closer.

Sin Esperanza (Without Hope) by Frida Kahlo, 1945.


Sin Esperanza, also known for its English name Without Hope is an important painting for portraying her suffering with great depth and detail. To start with, we must understand the unusual circumstances of the artist’s life at the time. The tragedy started for Frida at a very early age. At 5, her doctor discovered that she suffered from a bout of polio, a disease caused by a virus, that left her with a slight limp. This was a chronic ailment she would endure throughout her whole life.

Yet, it was not the only tragedy she has been through. An accident on a bus hit by a train when she was 18 caused her to stay in bed for years in plaster due to numerous fractures. It was the time when she asked her family for canvases, brushes and a mirror just to spend time. With the installation of an elevated mirror in the ceiling, she started observing and depicting the world around her, but mostly, her own image in her sickbed.

Frida Kahlo painting in her bed after the bus crash, 1940.

This could help us understand why she has always been obsessed with her own image and more than a third of her paintings are self-portraits.  Her explanation was:

“I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best.”

Frida Kahlo

I was not a Surrealist!

The painting is very reminiscent of surrealist fiction at first sight since it is filled with many strange figures.  Indeed, it represents the reality of the artist. So, it reminds the famous quote by her:

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Frida Kahlo

Meaning Behind the Painting

Sin Esperanza or Without Hope is dated 1945, depicts the time when Frida was fed according to the prescription prepared by Dr. Eloesser. She had an appetite problem and lost lots of weight due to her surgeries. So, she was advised by her doctor to lie down constantly and to follow a diet consisting of purees of certain foods every 2 hours in order to gain weight. This condition affected her very deeply. She expresses the struggle of this time through Without Hope which displays Frida Kahlo in a hopeless and painful state while she is being fed mostly raw food that doesn’t look tasteful at all. In fact, she explained how much she struggled by leaving a phrase on the back of it that gives the work its title: “Not the least hope remains for me… everything moves in step with what’s in the belly.


The painting can only be interpreted in a deeper way by focusing on each of the figures. To start with, we can observe that Frida depicted herself in tears. Mexican artist has always been willing to depict her in both physical and emotional pain in an explicit way. She used her art as a tool to visually convey the suffering, resilience, hopelessness, and complex thoughts that she was experiencing at the time.

Desert Landscape

The landscape behind the painting is a desert with the sun on one side and the moon on the other. While the desert in the landscape is mostly seen connected with the idea of dryness as a reference to the incapability of Frida to have children due to many operations she underwent starting from very early ages. It is possible to observe the theme in a number of other works by the great artist.

The Moon and the Sun

The moon and the sun were employed together in two sides of the landscape by Frida in a number of major paintings, such as; “Tree of Hope, Remain Strong” (1946) and “Portrait of Lucha Maria” (1942) are among the works that also employed sun and moon at the same time in the landscape.

Although there are some exceptions, the sun in Frida’s paintings is mostly a symbol of negativity while the moon symbolizes positiveness. She usually paints her good version on the moon’s side while her bad version on the sun’s. This might be related to her origin. She is from Mexico after all, where once mighty Aztec civilization lived. And cultural heritage left behind by them can be still felt today which surely has affected her to a point. In Aztec mythology, the sun requires blood sacrifices, a cruel practice by today’s standards; might be the reason why she associated the sun with ill.

In her painting Tree of Hope, Remain Strong (1946), Frida seems to be doing fine on the moon’S side while on the side with the sun, she is in bed and bleeding.

The sun is also related to drought and famine, especially in climates like Mexico’s, which emphasizes more on hopelessness. On the other hand, the moon, lets people escape from the heat of the sun, and gives them a fresh break, a time to breathe and relax. The moon is also a symbol of womanhood. Thus it might be a symbol for herself or her strong female character as well.

In Without Hope, it can be seen that the sun is much more dominant than the moon. And also the moon seems to be shrunk, judging from the ratio of its size to its glare which probably illustrates her losing hope day by day.

The Bed

When it comes to the sheet on the bed, it is covered by many depictions of microscopic organisms. This is a reference to the medical books she frequently read during her rest times. According to another striking interpretation; these organisms are a portrayal of the bacteria that caused her to spend most of her life in bed due to recurring infections.

The Funnel and the Skull

Above her, a funnel for feeding is held by a huge easel. This time, the easel is used to hold a funnel instead of a canvas. Allegedly, the funnel is inspired by a tool of water torture from Alfonso Toro’s engravings of the Spanish Inquisition from Kahlo’s own copy of La Familia Carvajal.

A painting depicting a woman being tortured during the Spanish inquisition.

The funnel is not the only interesting figure held by the easel. It is combined with a number of figures such as a dead-eyed fish, plucked chicken, bloody shanks of meat and cauliflower, and a skull. In Mexican tradition; the Sugar skull is employed on the Day of the Dead to honor people who have passed.

At this point, it will be helpful to remind the fact that Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist who was very tied to the culture and traditions of her home country. It is possible to see many figures, symbols connected with Mexican traditions in her work. This traditional Mexican sugar skull with Frida’s name engraved on it is likely to be a reference to a gift from her long-time lover; Diego Rivera from the times he came to visit Frida during her many stays in the hospital.

Lastly, it is necessary to mention the work in terms of style and technique. It is possible to say that the work literally reflects the unique character of Frida’s art with the use of vibrant colors which are deeply associated with the indigenous cultures of Mexico, as well as dramatic symbolism which is very reminiscent of European Surrealism paintings.


Even though in Frida’s “Without Hope“, all hope and resilience seem to be lost, she reminds us why she is an iconic female character, with the image of a strong woman, with these words:

At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”,

Frida Kahlo

If you enjoy Frida Kahlo’s works, check out another masterpiece by her, here.

Never lose your hope! See you in the next one. ✌????

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