Manao tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch)
oil on burlap mounted on canvas
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo,
A. Conger Goodyear Collection, 1965
In Manao tupapau Western artistic traditions and Tahitian culture intermingle. The composition reflects Gauguin's deep admiration for the modernist painting Olympia (1863) by Édouard Manet. Gauguin had copied Olympia shortly before departing for Tahiti and had brought a photograph of Manet's painting with him to Polynesia. In Manao tupapau Manet's reclining nude has been transformed into a young Tahitian girl. The tupapau, or evil spirit of the dead, appears behind her in place of Manet's maidservant.
In his journal Gauguin described the inspiration for the painting: "When I opened the door... I saw [her]... she stared up at me, her eyes wide with fear, and she seemed not to know who I was.... Perhaps she took me... for one of those legendary demons or specters, the Tupapaus that filled the sleepless nights of her people."