During his stay in Naples, Böcklin developed a passion for the research carried out at the zoological station (a research centre on sea animals); they were to feed the fantastical bestiary of hybrid creatures inhabiting his paintings, especially sea scenes.
Böcklin had a very high conception of the artist's destiny and of artistic creation – as testified by his impressive self-portraits, including the Self-portrait in the Workshop, 1893 (Basel, Kunstmuseum) and throughout his life he confronted, often painfully, with the fundamental questions of painting, of illusion, shape and colour.
His fellow-countryman Félix Vallotton recalls in the account in the Revue Blanche of the 50th-anniversary exhibition in Basel in 1897, how much for Böklin "to paint is a task for the elected" as he was "by turns haunted by all dreams, all ambitions: of shape, colour and expression".
This perpetual quest was reflected in his traveller's life and the continuous renewal of the form of his work. After stays in Basel, Weimar and Munich, he spent the last ten years of his life in Florence, in Italy that to him was a second homeland, where he achieved Ulysses and Calypso, 1880 (Basel, Kunstmuseum) and the first version of The Isle of the Dead (Basel, Kunstmuseum).