In September 1901, Eilshemius arrived in Apia, Samoa. In the course of a two-month stay he produced many pencil and watercolor sketches. However, not until 1907, five years after his return home, did he begin to translate them into oils. As demonstrated by paintings such as Samoa, in which a native woman stands prominently in the foreground, Eilshemius was as taken with the people of the islands as he was with their exotic surroundings. In this work, he emphasized the woman's face by placing it between the areas of light and shadow on the mountain in the background. In contrast to the much looser and freer technique used for the landscape, particularly the palm fronds on the right, the brushwork on the face is exceptionally fine, betraying Eilshemius's academic training and creating the effect of a portrait likeness. It also reveals his attitude towards his subject: that Samoa is a romantic, foreign setting, but its people are individuals.
Samoa appealed to Duncan Phillips's love of a naïve immediacy and to the lyric quality he perceived in the painting. He greatly admired its poetic mood and careful spatial construction. Eilshemius made the visual transition from the woman to the landscape by placing various details in the middle distance—such as the log and small figure at water's edge. He also had her leaning against a dark fence, which stands out against the light areas of mountain and shore. The result is that while her figure is relatively large in scale, it does not dominate the composition but instead complements the landscape effectively.
Phillips could also place Samoa in the landscape tradition of the French Barbizon school. As he explained: "Those earliest works of Eilshemius were, in some ways, very like early Corot. The skies are sensitive and subtly painted with delicate skill and the values are so beautiful in relation to pattern …[and] true in regard to space."