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Spirit of the Dead Watching

Paul Gauguin

Spirit of the Dead Watching

Paul Gauguin
  • Original Title: L'Esprit des morts veille
  • Date: 1892; French Polynesia  
  • Style: Post-Impressionism
  • Period: 1st Tahiti period
  • Genre: nude painting (nu)
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Dimensions: 73 x 92 cm
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This painting was inspired by Gaugin’s Tahitian wife Tehura, who at the time was 14 years old. One night, he came home and found her lying on her stomach, eyes wide open with fear, immobile and naked on their bed. As she looked at him, it was as if she was looking directly at a ghost. Gaugin himself described the symbolism of the painting, indicating that the bright colors were phosphorescences in the dark, as the Tahitian people feared that bright lights in the dark were ghosts. In his description of his wife’s fear that night, he states that she may be mistaking him for a ghost, but it has been suggested that it was more so because of his aggressive behavior towards her than her irrational fears. This painting was also included in one of Gaugin’s self-portraits, in which it appears in the background, indicating its high importance to him.

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