Paul Gauguin, Manao Tupapau ('Watched by the Spirits of the Dead'), a colour woodcut

Paris, France, AD 1893-94

From the Noa Noa series

Gauguin (1848-1903) returned to Paris from his first visit to Tahiti in August 1893. By the next year he had completed a written account of his experiences which he illustrated with a series of ten dramatic woodcuts intended to educate the Parisian audience to the virtues of a 'primitive' culture. Known as the Noa Noa ('Fragrant Scent') series, it was exhibited in his studio with little acclaim.

The title translates as 'Watched by the Spirits of the Dead'. This recurring theme in his work is explained in a letter to his wife from Tahiti in 1892:

'I have made a nude of a young girl... who is a Maori. These people traditionally fear the spirits of the dead... I must explain this fear with as few of the time-honoured literary devices as possible... there are a few flowers in the background but... as they only exist in the girl's imagination... I make them like sparks... finally I have made the ghost just a plain little woman, for this girl... can only picture the spirits of the dead as looking like the person who has died.'

Find in the collection online

More information


E.W. Kornfeld and others, Paul Gauguin: catalogue raison (Bern, Galerie Kornfeld, 1988)

, The art of Paul Gauguin (Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1998)

A. Griffiths (ed.), Landmarks in print collecting (London, The British Museum Press)


Height: 204.000 mm
Width: 356.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1949-4-11-3678


Bequeathed by Campbell Dodgson


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore