Skip to Main Content

Manaò tupapaú (Spirit of the Dead Watching)

Public Domain

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

Public Domain

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

Public Domain

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

Paul Gauguin

French, 1848-1903

Manaò tupapaú (Spirit of the Dead Watching), 1892

oil on jute mounted on canvas

support: 28 3/4 x 36 3/8 inches (73.02 x 92.39 cm); framed: 45 5/8 x 53 1/16 x 5 1/4 inches (115.89 x 134.78 x 13.33 cm)

Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

A. Conger Goodyear Collection, 1965

1965:1

Collection Highlight

More Details

Inscriptions

inscription / upper left / Manaò tupapaú
signature, dated / lower left / P. Gauguin 92

Provenance

the artist, Tahiti and France, 1892-until his death 1903 (bought in by the artist for 900 francs in his sale, "Vente de 30 tableaux de Paul Gauguin," Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 18, 1895, cat. no. 3; consigned by Gauguin to Lévy, Paris, ca. 1895; on deposit with William Molard, Paris, at the request of Gauguin, by 1897/98; consigned with Ambroise Vollard, Paris, by September 1901);
bought from Vollard by Count Harry Kessler, Wiemar, likely November 1903, certainly by 1904;
consigned to Eugène Druet, Paris, 1908-1910;
bought by Druet, February 1910 (possibly consigned to Roger Fry, London, November 1910);
Sir Michael Sadler, Oxford;
Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill, London;
Percy Moore Turner, London;
purchased by De Hauke & Co., Paris, from unknown source for A. Conger Goodyear, New York, 1929;
purchased from De Hauke & Co., by A. Conger Goodyear, June 1929;
A. Conger Goodyear, New York, 1929-until his death 1964;
from the estate of A. Conger Goodyear to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo;
allocated to the A. Conger Goodyear Fund, February 1, 1965

Class

Paintings

Work Type

Oil painting

This information may change due to ongoing research. Glossary of Terms

In 1891, after many years without commercial success in France, Paul Gauguin traveled to the island of Tahiti, speculating that such exotic imagery would sell well in Paris. The central figure in this painting is a young Tahitian girl named Teha’amana who lies on her stomach, glancing sideways at us. In this work, Gauguin said he was trying to represent the Polynesian fear of the tupapaú, or spirit of the dead, who appears here as an older woman in a black cloak. On the wall behind the bed are several feathery white forms, which the artist described as phosphorescent lights that exemplified the interest the spirits take in the living. 

From this description, one might ascertain that the girl, who, according to Gauguin, was just thirteen years old at the time, is afraid of the specter. The artist later described their relationship as representing a series of dualities, including “youth and old age, light and darkness, and life and death.” Alternatively, could her apprehension be provoked by what she sees beyond the picture plane? During his time in Tahiti, Gauguin assumed the role not only of an artist framing and executing compositions, often projecting his own primitivist preconceptions in doing so, but also of a much older man who was in a position to take advantage of his subject. The work’s mysteriousness creates space for a great deal of open-ended discussion around its content as well as the artist’s intent.

Label from Humble and Human: An Exhibition in Honor of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., February 2–May 26, 2019

Back to Top