The subject sits on a carved wooden chair, seemingly emotionless, secluded and removed from the outside world. The remote setting, defined shadows and path of light sources, and the stillness with which the subject sits indicate the photographic source from which the painting formed.
The original pose assumed by the subject more or less remains in the painting, with only a few small but significant changes having been made to the overall composition.
The position of Tohotaua's head has been altered a little so that she apparently stares into space without engaging with the observer.
The white pareo (sarong) worn by the subject originally wrapped to cover her breasts but in the painting it sits beneath, exposing them, with the white feather fan in her right hand moved slightly in order to teasingly cover her right breast. According to Gauguin, this vision exemplified the epitome of a Marquesan woman.
By muting the background details of the photograph, Gauguin was able to afford simplicity to the surroundings whilst increasing the perceived status of the subject.
The chair on which Tohotaua sits has also been altered to be more carved, ornate and grand, furthering the status of the subject. This is a romanticized version of the scene, with the artist concentrating only on the essential details.
The cockade in the centre of the feather fan adds a note of reality to the piece. The cockade features the French national colours of blue, white and red, a frequent reference to the "Grand nation" found in Gauguin's work.
The artist frequently criticized his country for its annexing of Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands in 1880.
Taken in 1901, the original photograph was found in Gauguin's effects in Hiva Oa following his death in 1903.