Watson and the Shark

Last updated
The original version, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1778, 182.1 x 229.7 cm Watsonandtheshark-original.jpg
The original version, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1778, 182.1 × 229.7 cm

Watson and the Shark is an oil painting by the American painter John Singleton Copley, depicting the rescue of the English boy Brook Watson from a shark attack in Havana, Cuba. Copley, then living in London, painted three versions. The first, of 1778, is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. A second, full-size replica is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a third, smaller, version with a more vertical composition (1782), now is in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Oil painting Process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil

Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin, such as pine resin or frankincense, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss.

John Singleton Copley American-born painter

John Singleton Copley was an Anglo-American painter, active in both colonial America and England. He was probably born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Richard and Mary Singleton Copley, both Anglo-Irish. After becoming well-established as a portrait painter of the wealthy in colonial New England, he moved to London in 1774, never returning to America. In London he met considerable success as a portraitist for the next two decades, and also painted a number of large history paintings, which were innovative in their readiness to depict modern subjects and modern dress. His later years were less successful, and he died heavily in debt.

Brook Watson Lord Mayor of London

Sir Brook Watson, 1st Baronet was a British merchant, soldier, and later Lord Mayor of London. He is perhaps most famous as the subject of John Singleton Copley's painting Watson and the Shark, which depicts a shark attack on Watson as a boy that resulted in the loss of his right leg below the knee.

Contents

The replica, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1778, same size. J S Copley - Watson and the Shark (Boston).jpg
The replica, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1778, same size.

The paintings are based on an attack that took place in Havana harbor in 1749. Brook Watson, then a 14-year-old cabin boy on the Royal Consort, [1] lost his leg in the attack and was not rescued until the third attempt, which is the subject of the painting. [2] Watson went on to become a Lord Mayor of London.

Cabin boy low ranking male employee who waits on the officers and passengers of a ship

A cabin boy or ship's boy is a boy who waits on the officers and passengers of a ship, especially running errands for the captain.

The Lord Mayor of London is the City's mayor and the leader of the City of London Corporation. Within the City of London, the Lord Mayor is accorded precedence over all individuals except the sovereign and retains various traditional powers, rights and privileges, including the title and style The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of London.

Painting

Copley and Brook Watson became friends after the American artist arrived in London in 1774. Watson commissioned him to create a painting of the 1749 event, and Copley produced three versions. It was the first of a series of large-scale historical paintings that Copley would concentrate on after settling in London. The painting is romanticised: the gory detail of the injury is hidden beneath the waves, though there is a hint of blood in the water. The figure of Watson is based on the statue of the "Borghese Gladiator", by Agasias of Ephesus, in the Louvre. Other apparent influences are Renaissance art, and the ancient statue of Laocoön and his Sons , which Copley may have seen in Rome. Copley was probably also influenced by Benjamin West's The Death of General Wolfe , and the growing popularity of romantic painting.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.

<i>Borghese Gladiator</i> Hellenistic sculpture

The Borghese Gladiator is a Hellenistic life-size marble sculpture portraying a swordsman, created at Ephesus about 100 BCE, now on display at the Louvre.

Louvre Art museum and Historic site in Paris, France

The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world's largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city's 1st arrondissement. Approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square metres. In 2018, the Louvre was the world's most visited art museum, receiving 10.2 million visitors.

The third smaller version,now in the Detroit Institute of Arts (1782, 91.4 cm/35.9 in x 77.5 cm/30.5 in) has a more vertical composition. John Singleton Copley - Watson and the Shark (Detroit).jpg
The third smaller version,now in the Detroit Institute of Arts (1782, 91.4 cm/35.9 in x 77.5 cm/30.5 in) has a more vertical composition.

The composition of the rescuers in the boat shows hints of Peter Paul Rubens's Jonah Thrown into the Sea, and both Rubens's Miraculous Draught of Fishes and Raphael's painting of the same name. The facial expressions show a marked resemblance to those in Charles Le Brun's Conférence de M. Le Brun sur l'expression générale et particulière, an influential work published in 1698; they portray a range of emotions, from fear to courage. Various elements of composition were changed as the painting progressed. Infrared analysis shows that the old boatswain was originally a young man, and preliminary sketches reveal that the black sailor at the rear of the boat, who also appears as the subject of Copley's Head of a Negro painted around the same time, was originally envisioned as a white man with long, flowing hair.

Peter Paul Rubens Flemish painter

Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens's highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.

Raphael 16th-century Italian painter and architect

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period.

Charles Le Brun 17th-century French painter and art theorist

Charles Le Brun was a French painter, physiognomist, art theorist, and a director of several art schools of his time. As court painter to Louis XIV, who declared him "the greatest French artist of all time", he was a dominant figure in 17th-century French art and much influenced by Nicolas Poussin.

Copley had never visited Havana, and it is likely that he had never seen a shark, much less one attacking a person. He may have gleaned details of Havana harbour from prints and book illustrations: he includes the real landmark of Morro Castle in the background on the right. The shark is less convincing and includes anatomical features not found in sharks, such as lips, forward-facing eyes that resemble a tiger's more than a shark's and air blowing out from the animal's "nostrils".

Morro Castle (Havana) fortification

Morro Castle, named after the three biblical Magi, is a fortress guarding the entrance to Havana bay in Havana, Cuba. The design was drawn up by the Italian engineer Battista Antonelli; originally under the control of Spain, the fortress was captured by the British in 1762, and was returned to the Spanish under treaty terms a year later.

Nostril one of the two channels of the nose

A nostril is one of the two channels of the nose, from the point where they bifurcate to the external opening. In birds and mammals, they contain branched bones or cartilages called turbinates, whose function is to warm air on inhalation and remove moisture on exhalation. Fish do not breathe through their noses, but they do have two small holes used for smelling, which may, indeed, be called nostrils.

The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1778. Copley produced a second, full-size replica for himself the same year, which is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His third and smaller version, with a vertical format produced by extending the view of the sky above, is in the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, Canada) has a miniature version of this piece, attributed to Copley.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Art museum in Boston, MA

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, is the fifth largest museum in the United States. It contains more than 450,000 works of art, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas. With more than 1.2 million visitors a year, it is the 52nd most visited art museum in the world as of 2019.

Detroit Institute of Arts Art museum in Detroit, Michigan

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), located in Midtown Detroit, Michigan, has one of the largest and most significant art collections in the United States. With over 100 galleries, it covers 658,000 square feet (61,100 m2) with a major renovation and expansion project completed in 2007 that added 58,000 square feet (5,400 m2). The DIA collection is regarded as among the top six museums in the United States with an encyclopedic collection which spans the globe from ancient Egyptian and European works to contemporary art. Its art collection is valued in billions of dollars, up to $8.1 billion according to a 2014 appraisal. The DIA campus is located in Detroit's Cultural Center Historic District, about two miles (3 km) north of the downtown area, across from the Detroit Public Library near Wayne State University.

Beaverbrook Art Gallery Art museum in Fredericton, New Brunswick

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery is a public art gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. It is named after William Maxwell "Max" Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, who funded the building of the gallery and assembled the original collection. It opened in 1959 with over 300 works, including paintings by J.M.W. Turner and Salvador Dalí. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery is New Brunswick's officially designated provincial art gallery. The building has undergone several expansions, the latest of which opened in 2017 via a design by Halifax-based MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects. Former director Terry Graff stated that this "expansion and revitalization" aimed to make the gallery "an important destination for national and international contemporary art".

At his death, Watson bequeathed the 1807 painting to Christ's Hospital, with the hope that it would prove "a most usefull Lesson to Youth". In September 1819 the school's committee of almoners voted to accept the painting and place it in the great hall. The school later moved to Horsham, Sussex. In 1963, it sold the painting to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. [3]

Related Research Articles

Visual art of the United States

Visual art of the United States or American art is visual art made in the United States or by U.S. artists. Before colonization there were many flourishing traditions of Native American art, and where the Spanish colonized Spanish Colonial architecture and the accompanying styles in other media were quickly in place. Early colonial art on the East Coast initially relied on artists from Europe, with John White the earliest example. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, artists primarily painted portraits, and some landscapes in a style based mainly on English painting. Furniture-makers imitating English styles and similar craftsmen were also established in the major cities, but in the English colonies, locally made pottery remained resolutely utilitarian until the 19th century, with fancy products imported.

Gilbert Stuart American painter

Gilbert Charles Stuart was an American painter from Rhode Island Colony who is widely considered one of America's foremost portraitists. His best known work is the unfinished portrait of George Washington, begun in 1796, that is sometimes referred to as the Athenaeum Portrait. Stuart retained the portrait and used it to paint scores of copies that were commissioned by patrons in America and abroad. The image of George Washington featured in the painting has appeared on the United States one-dollar bill for more than a century and on various postage stamps of the 19th century and early 20th century.

John Trumbull 18th and 19th-century American artist

John Trumbull was an American artist during the period of the American Revolutionary War and was notable for his historical paintings. He has been called The Painter of the Revolution.

National Gallery of Art national art museum in Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art, and its attached Sculpture Garden, is a national art museum in Washington, D.C., located on the National Mall, between 3rd and 9th Streets, at Constitution Avenue NW. Open to the public and free of charge, the museum was privately established in 1937 for the American people by a joint resolution of the United States Congress. Andrew W. Mellon donated a substantial art collection and funds for construction. The core collection includes major works of art donated by Paul Mellon, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Samuel Henry Kress, Rush Harrison Kress, Peter Arrell Browne Widener, Joseph E. Widener, and Chester Dale. The Gallery's collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, medals, and decorative arts traces the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas and the largest mobile created by Alexander Calder.

Théodore Géricault 19th-century French painter

Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault was an influential French painter and lithographer, whose best-known painting is The Raft of the Medusa. Although he died young, he was one of the pioneers of the Romantic movement.

Charles Sheeler American painter

Charles Sheeler was an American painter and commercial photographer. He is recognized as one of the founders of American modernism, developing a "quasi-photographic" style of painting known as Precisionism and becoming one of the master photographers of the 20th century.

Robert Feke American painter

Robert Feke was an American portrait painter born in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. According to art historian Richard Saunders, "Feke’s impact on the development of Colonial painting was substantial, and his pictures set a new standard by which the work of the next generation of aspiring Colonial artists was judged." In total, about 60 paintings by Feke survive, twelve of which are signed and dated.

Yale University Art Gallery Art museum in New Haven, Connecticut

The Yale University Art Gallery houses a significant and encyclopedic collection of art in several buildings on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Although it embraces all cultures and periods, the gallery emphasizes early Italian painting, African sculpture, and modern art.

<i>The Gulf Stream</i> (painting) painting by Winslow Homer

The Gulf Stream is an 1899 oil painting by Winslow Homer. It shows a man in a small dismasted rudderless fishing boat struggling against the waves of the sea, and was the artist's last statement on a theme that had interested him for more than a decade. Homer vacationed often in Florida, Cuba, and the Caribbean.

<i>The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782</i> painting by John Singleton Copley

The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar is the title of a 1791 oil-on-canvas painting by Boston-born American artist John Singleton Copley. It depicts the defeat of the floating batteries at Gibraltar during the Great Siege of Gibraltar. The Governor of Gibraltar, General George Augustus Eliott, is on horseback pointing to the rescue of the defeated Spanish sailors by the British.

Copley Society of Art

The Copley Society of art is America's oldest non-profit art association. It was founded in 1879 by the first graduating class of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and continues to play an important role in promoting its member artists and the visual arts in Boston. The Society is named after the renowned John Singleton Copley. The gallery currently represents over 400 living artist members, ranging in experience from students to nationally recognized artists and in style from traditional and academic realists to contemporary and abstract painters, photographers, sculptors, and printmakers. Several of the artists working in the tradition of the Boston School of painters exhibit at the Copley Society of Art, along with the Guild Of Boston Artists a few doors down from the Copley Society of Art's Newbury Street location.

Joseph Badger was a portrait artist in Boston, Massachusetts, in the 18th century. He was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, to tailor Stephen Badger and Mercy Kettell. He "began his career as a house-painter and glazier, and ... throughout his life continued this work, besides painting signs, hatchments and other heraldic devices, in order to eke out a livelihood when orders for portraits slackened." In 1731 he married Katharine Felch; they moved to Boston around 1733. He was a member of the Brattle Street Church. He died in Boston in May, 1765, when "taken with an apoplectic fit as he was walking in his garden, and expired in a few minutes after." Works by Badger are in the collections of the Worcester Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and Historic New England's Phillips House, Salem, Mass.

<i>Venus with a Mirror</i> painting by Titian

Venus with a Mirror is a painting by Titian, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and it is considered to be one of the collection's highlights.

Vassilios "Bill" Giavis is a painter and illustrator of historical sites, diners, people, maritime scenes, cityscapes, and landscapes. He currently resides and works in Lowell and has a studio in the Brush Gallery in downtown Lowell.

<i>The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775</i> painting by John Trumbull

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775 is an oil painting completed in 1786 by the American artist John Trumbull depicting the death of the American general Richard Montgomery at the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1775, during the invasion of Quebec, a major military operation by the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. The painting is on view at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. It is the second in Trumbull's series of national historical paintings on the war, the first being The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775.

References

  1. Brayman, James (1852). "Escape from a shark". Thrilling adventures by land and sea. Being remarkable historical facts, gathered from authentic sources. G. H. Derby and co., Buffalo, N.Y. p. 89. Retrieved 19 August 2019. While lying in the harbor at Havana, it was very hot on board the Royal Consort, about four o'clock in the afternoon of the 14th July.
  2. "Copley's Watson and the Shark", Meg Floryan, Smarthistory, accessed December 20, 2012.
  3. "Provenance". National Gallery of Art, Washington. Retrieved 27 June 2011.

Further reading