Manao Tupapau: Watched by the Spirit of the Dead, before June 1894
lithograph on wove paper
42 x 57.4 cm; image: 18.1 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 9065)
In March 1891 Gauguin sailed for Tahiti, where he immersed himself in the local culture until his return to France in 1893. This print is based on a Tahitian painting of a Maori woman with whom he lived. Gauguin had awakened her in the middle of the night upon his return from a trip, and she thought he was a ghost. The artist transformed this experience into an allegory of Maori belief in the afterlife, where the spirit of the dead is personified as a caped black figure in the background. Gauguin’s choosing to submit the print for inclusion in the conservative album "L’Estampe originale" in 1894 indicates its importance to him. The brush and wash technique suggests watercolour. The print includes elements not in the painting, for example, a totemic figure to the far right and the artist’s initials over a decorative design to the right.