Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Watson and the Shark

Artist:
After John Singleton Copley (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1738–1815 London)
Date:
ca. 1778
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
24 7/8 x 30 1/8 in. (63.2 x 76.5 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Gordon Dexter, 1942
Accession Number:
42.71.1
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 753
Although the attribution of this iconic work to Copley has been questioned, this may be a rapid study after the first of three versions painted by the artist beginning around 1778. The original is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; a second version is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and a third, dated 1782, is in the Detroit Institute of Arts. The painting depicts the future Lord Mayor of London Brook Watson’s loss of his leg to a shark while swimming in Havana harbor in 1749. By representing this dramatic episode in Watson’s youth, Copley furthered the revolutionary approach to history painting–practiced by fellow artists Benjamin West and John Trumbull–highlighting an ordinary man in the midst of an extraordinary event.
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