This is one of Duvocelle's more macabre works. It seems out of key with the moralising and religious aims of memento mori. This Latin expression, which means "remember you will die", is used for traditional representations of skeletons which are supposed to make the viewer meditate on the fragility of human life.
During his training at the Beaux-Arts, Julien-Adolphe Duvocelle studied under Bonnat, an academic painter famous for his portraits, several of which are in the Musée d'Orsay. The catalogues of the Salons des Artistes Français, where Duvocelle was a regular exhibitor between 1897 and 1927, show that he too painted many portraits, particularly of women. At the Universal Exhibition of 1900 he won a bronze medal for Portrait of My Mother.
The sardonic grin and boggling eyes of the skull and the bony hands that seem to clutch at the shroud suggest an extremely morbid and almost provocative symbolism. This impression is intensified by the frame with its rows of bones reminiscent of the catacombs. Although direct comparison is out of the question, the work brings to mind the skeletal, grimacing witches in the work of Goya or Ensor.