The shells in this work, set against the endless expanse of sea, can be seen as symbols of mortality. Wadsworth was fascinated by the sea, and painted maritime subjects throughout his life.
In the mid-1920s he turned from relatively naturalistic harbour scenes to enigmatic still lifes which suggest the dream-like unease of Surrealism. At the same time, he began to experiment with tempera, a method of painting using pigments mixed with egg. Tempera had been the principal painting technique before the introduction of oils in the fifteenth century.