Pain and Suffering in "The Broken Column" by Frida Kahlo

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Pain and Suffering in “The Broken Column” by Frida Kahlo

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“The Broken Column”, a self-portrait, was created by Frida Kahlo in the year of 1944. This artwork was painted just after Kahlo had undergone a spinal operation. The surgery had left her unable to do much activity and bounded by a metal corset, which helped to lessen the severe and endless pain that she was in. In the painting she is portrayed standing up surrounded by a dry, broken landscape. A fractured column that looks as if it is close to collapsing has replaced her spine. This portrait demonstrates the motivation of the artist to demonstrate to the audiences the struggle she experienced during the period of time that her surgery took place. The main points being discussed are the colours in the painting and the shapes used to portray the pain and suffering she dealt with. Her inspiration is the pain that she endured during this time in her life.

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Kahlo used different colours to communicate an idea of darkness. The colour palate was limited but included both warm and cool colours in her self-portrait. The colours include blue, brown, yellow, red and orange. The colours contained both shades and tints of the colours described. The sky is a blue which has high value on the left and low value on the right. The red tint colour of Kahlo attracts attention compared to the background of the picture, and the hair and ‘broken’ column have a very strong dark colour. Frida has also painted herself with shadows around her eyes, the breasts and blanket. There is added amounts of black (tint), so the shade is dulled. The cracks in the ground (behind her) are a green and yellow combination with very low levels of intensity. The blanket and straps are white where the straps have a highest value and intensity than the blanket. Her hair similarly has some shadows where the black is in its highest value and there is a perception of light. The colours used create another perspective. The cold colours of blue, brownish and yellow make the background appear far away. The colours of the woman, which are reddish, orange, and make the woman look closer. The shadows around her eyes may communicate the idea that she is very tired, possibly exhausted, from the events of her life, such as her accident. The shades and tints create lower intensity and value throughout the whole art piece. Using a limited palate to communicate the feeling behind the image, allowed the audience to understand the pain and suffering behind her paintbrush.

The shapes used in “The Broken Column” are mostly organic and associated with the natural world, with the human form being three dimensional and centred in the painting to draw your attention to the shape of the woman. A rectangular shape around the top can be observed, the sky, which is a negative space. Other negative shapes are the two triangles of earth that go on both sides of the picture. The organic shape of the woman is in the centre and it is a positive space. Details in the nails may imply sharp and metallic textures.

Frida is three-dimensional (3D) and also includes other shapes such as the shape of her head, eyes, mouth and nose. The shapes are very distinct, hard-edged, and concrete (especially the hard Earth behind her). Only her blanket, hair, and breasts portray softness.

Placing the image of herself in the centre of the painting is common in paintings where the desire is to draw the eye to the 3D shape. The shapes in this painting are based on forms of nature. The shape of Frida Kahlo is the dominant one in the art piece which demonstrates that she is the main focus and the onlooker/s all bring their attention to her. Shapes suggest that Frida is lonely, vulnerable, exposed and in pain, but also that she is strong. The column may suggest that even after surgery and with the pole inside her that may hold her up, she is stronger. This can be implied because Frida looks to be holding herself up pretty well, disregarding the nails etc., whereas, the column is broken and sharp-edged. Using organic shapes, particularly the human form placed in the centre of the painting demonstrate that she is the main focus of this painting. It highlights the suffering that she went through.

Kahlo, in her piece, The Broken Column communicates with intent by using colours and shapes to convey the darkness she experienced. This darkness is the pain and suffering she endured and she has used organic shapes to show the human form suffering. The painful image is highlighted with a limited palate of colours but are realistic when showing herself crying and ensuring understanding of the audience with the use of a column to reflect her broken spine.

Works cited

  1. Kahlo, F. (1944). The Broken Column. Retrieved from
  2. Herrera, H. (1983). Frida: A biography of Frida Kahlo. Harper & Row.
  3. Gómez-Arostegui, H. (2017). Frida Kahlo's “The Broken Column”: Pain and Suffering, Male Conquest and Female Empowerment. Forum for Modern Language Studies, 53(3), 293-308.
  4. O'Connor, F. (1993). Frida Kahlo. Harry N. Abrams.
  5. Zamora, M. (2019). Frida Kahlo's “The Broken Column” and the Making of a Disability Icon. Disability Studies Quarterly, 39(1).
  6. Ortiz, A. (2014). Self-portrait as the broken column: Gender, disability, and Mexican national identity. The Journal of Popular Culture, 47(4), 742-760.
  7. Rauda-Azua, J., & Ponce, S. A. (2018). A broken column: A feminist perspective of Frida Kahlo's The Broken Column. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 52(4), 56-68.
  8. Chaudhuri, U. (2013). The art and lives of Frida Kahlo. Parkstone International.
  9. Herrera, H. (2002). Frida Kahlo: The Paintings. HarperCollins.
  10. Zavala, A. M. (2015). Frida Kahlo's “The Broken Column”: An analysis. Voices: The Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy, 1(1), 18-23.

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