This and another shell and shingle painting, made in Lake George, New York, are part of an important series in which O’Keeffe explored the relationship between realism and abstraction.
She wrote about her inspiration and the process of working on these canvases in her 1976 book, Georgia O’Keeffe:
We were shingling the barn and the old shingles, taken off, were free to fly around. Absentmindedly I picked up a loose one and carried it into the house and up to the table in my room. On the table was a white clam shell brought from Maine in the spring. I had been painting it and it still lay there. The white shape of the shell and the grey shape of the weathered shingle were beautiful against the pale grey leaf on the faintly pink-lined pattern of the wallpaper. Adding the shingle got me painting again.
After the first realistic paintings I painted just a piece of the shingle and a piece of the shell. To a couple were added quite large green leaves that were in a glass on the table. Finally I went back to the shingle and shell—large again—the shingle just a dark space that floated off the top of the painting, the shell just a simple white shape under it. They fascinated me so that I forgot what they were except that they were shapes together—singing shapes.