A pregnant woman stands in profile to the viewer, with her head bowed down toward her belly and bared breasts. The woman’s eyes are closed and one hand, its fingers curled, is raised so that the palm faces away from her. Perhaps she is praying. A streak of grey angles up behind her head, possibly an abstract halo or wing.

The woman wears a colorful shawl, although her breasts are exposed. The shawl is intricately patterned with swirls and circles evocative of sperm and ova, respectively. A grey skull-cum-death’s head peers out from behind her belly. Beneath the woman and partially enshrouded by her shawl are three women who assume the same position of bent head, closed eyes, and raised hand(s).

All the activity in the image is compacted into a long pillar of sorts, the right side of which forms a fairly straight edge, and the left side of which curves outwards. Behind, a speckled golden-brown makes for a solid background with no perspective.


Residing in Vienna, Klimt "drew on such sources as Byzantine art, Mycenaean metalwork, Persian rugs and miniatures, the mosaics of the Ravenna churches, and Japanese screens" (Quoted from the MoMA website). Hope, II, painted in 1907-8, reflects on the dangers of childbirth, both for the newborn and for the mother. Imbued with almost religious solemnity, the four women in this painting either pray or mourn for the life of their unborn children, and perhaps for themselves.

A work of beauty and majesty, the ebullience of Klimt’s colors and patterns are subtly countered by the macabre peeping skull that emerges from behind the pregnant lady’s belly. The grouping of all the figures and detail into one column in the picture’s center suggests a unity and balance among birth, death, prayer, mourning, vibrancy, and disease.

Compare Hope, II with Edvard Munch’s Madonna and Deidre Scherer’s Child in her Surrounded by Family and Friends for additional artists’ renderings of illness and death as they pertain to childbirth.

Primary Source

Museum of Modern Art, New York