“Watson and the Shark”

John Singleton Copley, “Watson and the Shark” 1778, oil on canvas.

I’d never even heard of this image until my big brother mentioned it tonight! Copley an American artist who ended up relocating to London right after the Revolution and could never quite please his American or British critics. Here Copley makes a large scale painting, traditionally reserved for grand historic scenes, of a personal heroic story. Brook Watson was only 14 when attacked by a shark while swimming in Cuban waters. Although he lost a leg, Watson went on to become a rich British merchant. Beyond the subject matter, Copley takes this opportunity to show his credentials as an artist, referencing classical nude sculptures as well as Neo-Classical painting. It’s also thought to be a reference of Christ, and rebirth, as well as the resurrection or birth of a nation. It shows us that artists often have hidden agendas – and will push the limits wherever they can to show their ‘genius.’ Personally – I just really liked seeing an 18th century version of jaws! (Original post to Instagram on November 23, 2012.)

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