Santiago Rusiñol went to Tarragona in 1894 to visit and keep company with his friend Josep Yxart who was ill at the time. Critic and writer, Yxart had been part of the group of artists and writers of Barcelona’s Cau Ferrat, through Narcís Oller, and who endorsed Rusiñol in the theater and its first premieres. In Tarragona, the artist will stay there for two months painting and writing, impressed by the landscape and corners of the city experienced by Yxart, including the cemetery. He painted his first cypress trees there while reading to Joan Ruiz y Porta an article recalling the cypress trees he had seen in Fiesole, Italy. Joan Ruiz i Porta was an archivist and president of the Tarraconense University, an intellectual activist to whom the painter dedicated this painting.
It is in Tarragona where Rusiñol begins the pictorial path of plastic symbolism. With a deep feeling for the symbolic world and thoughts around death and the disappearance of loved ones, he often walked around the cemetery and painted it. The painting “Pulvis, cineris, nihil”, and the burning of some old coffins, with a shocking and almost avant-garde perspective, is witness to these visions of the city of the dead.