Initially he thought that these people were still living in accordance with nature, their lives untainted by European influences. In the end he found a different world from the one he had envisioned. He found a world that had already been transformed by Christianity and colonization. The name of the painting, La Orana Maria, was most likely derived from the Catholic Church in Mataiea, a region that had undergone conversion long before Gauguin arrived. This is where Gauguin painted this painting. The La Orana Maria scene's uncommon composition was obtained from a picture of the Japanese temple of Borodor. The characters in the painting are portrayed differently though. Paul makes of use of a symbolist language that he found in the area to transform the idea of the holy family into a Tahitian masterpiece.

In the painting Mary is a Tahitian, wearing a red print Sarong while Jesus is seated naked on her shoulder. To show their divinity Paul differentiates the two from other characters in the painting by having painting golden halos around their heads. There is a fruit laid out in a 'fata', which is a platform used by the locals to offer sacrifices to their deities, at Mary's feet. A little more distant from Mary and Jesus is two young girls dressed in the local attire covering the lower parts of their bodies. They are painted holding their hands together as if in prayer, or as if they are acknowledging the divinity in their midst. The other important character is an angel painted with colorful wings located just behind the two girls. He seems to be the connection between the two girls and divinity.

Gauguin was from a relatively exotic background himself having being brought up in Peru and educated in France. He journeyed as a marine merchant and later ended up in Paris, as a well-made stock broker. His painting career began in the 1870s after a stint where he lost his job in the stock market. In the late 1880s he opted instead for a simpler life, one that had meaning and that would reflect directly in his painting. His travels began in Martinique and Tahiti. Here he was inspired by the local culture and stories to paint flat and simple elements that had bold colors thus bearing a symbolic meaning. While he was in this exotic paradise, Paul ran out of funds and went back to Paris to raise money. He did this by selling his painting, La Orana Maria Hail Mary for 2000 Francs after which he went back to Polynesia. Gauguin ended up living the rest of his life in poverty with a morphine addiction and dying of syphilis later on in 1903.