This is thought to have been painted soon after Van Gogh's release from hospital in Arles in January 1889. On 7 January he wrote to his brother Theo: 'I am going to set to work again tomorrow. I shall start by doing one or two still lifes to get used to painting again'. He was probably also inspired by a woodcut by Hokusai, 'Crabs', which was reproduced in the May 1888 issue of 'Le Japon Artistique', sent to Vincent by Theo in September of that year. In a related painting in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, the crab is shown lying on its back. Here it is probably the same crab shown both on its back and upright. The artist has used varied brushstrokes to convey texture. Parallel strokes sculpt the creature's form on an exuberant sea-like surface.