Parau na te Varua ino
(Words of the Devil)
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington,
Gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Harriman
Gauguin transposes the temptation of Eve to Tahiti with significant alterations. The figure of Eve hides her nakedness in shame, echoing Western depictions, but the tempter — usually a snake — here takes the form of a kneeling figure with a masklike face, perhaps the varua ino or evil spirit referred to in the title. In the preparatory pastel he first envisioned this evil spirit as a sinister hooded figure. It was from this full-scale study that Gauguin transferred the design, with minor adjustments onto the canvas. The odd orange and green face that looms in the upper right corner of the painting may be another such spirit. The "words" of the title perhaps refer to the dried pandanus leaves that swirl around the nude figure's feet. In his journal Noa Noa, Gauguin compared these long leaves to "letters... of an unknown, mysterious language."