The J. Paul Getty Museum

Two Shells

Object Details


Two Shells


Edward Weston (American, 1886 - 1958)




negative 1927; print about 1933


Gelatin silver print

Object Number:



24.1 × 18.4 cm (9 1/2 × 7 1/4 in.)


© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

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Object Description

In 1927 Edward Weston came into contact with the artist Henrietta Shore (1880-1963). Based in Los Angeles, Shore had been painting shells for several years and introduced him to the subject. She is one of the few artists he credited directly as having influenced him, as he wrote in his daybook, “I think the Chambered Nautilus has one of the most exquisite forms, to say nothing of color and texture, in nature. I was awakened to shells by the painting of Henry. . . . Henry's influence, or stimulation, I see not just in shell subject matter, it is in all my late work,—in the bananas and the nudes. I feel it not as an extraneous garnish but as a freshened tide swelling from within myself.”

Arranging shells in his studio, Weston began making pictures such as this example. Still life, with which he began experimenting seriously in Mexico, was certainly not new to him, but he became almost obsessive with his arrangement of shells and the coordination of dramatic lighting in Glendale. He wrote in his daybook about barricading the door to his studio and about repeatedly reminding his son Brett (1911-1993) to walk lightly so as not to disturb the carefully balanced shells, such as this pairing, in which one is placed precariously within another. In one instance, after watching an arrangement all day in wait for advantageous lighting, Weston described himself on the verge of tears when his cardboard background fell, altering the composition. The results of his travails with shells and the other still-life subjects that would follow are some of his most iconic and widely reproduced images. Printed immaculately on glossy paper, with fine resolution and wide tonal range, these eight-by-ten-inch contact prints exemplify the technical prowess for which he is still admired today.

Brett Abbott. Edward Weston, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005), 54. ©2005, J. Paul Getty Trust.


Edward Weston, American, 1886 - 1958

Persistent Themes: Notable Photography Acquisitions, 1985-1990 (June 5 to September 2, 1990)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), June 5 to September 2, 1990
Arrows of Time: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (January 24 to April 2, 1995)
  • Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at UCLA (Los Angeles), January 24 to April 2, 1995
Edward Weston: Enduring Vision (July 31 to November 25, 2007)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), July 31 to November 25, 2007

Maddow, Ben. Edward Weston, His Life and Photographs: The Definitive Volume of His Photographic Work, revised edition. (Millerton, N.Y.: Aperture, 1979), p. 149.

Abbott, Brett. Edward Weston. In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005), pp. 54-55, pl. 25.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 7th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), p. 312, ill.