Watson and the Shark

John Singleton Copley American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 717

Copley painted this rapid study for "Watson and the Shark" from his first rendering of the iconic work—now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington—in preparation for successive versions, found in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It depicts the future Lord Mayor of London, Brook Watson, who, as a teenager, lost his leg to a shark while swimming in Havana harbor in 1749. A Black sailor forms the apex of the composition, holding a rope for the victim who later famously defended the slave trade in the West Indies. Copley’s dramatic depiction of an ordinary man in the midst of an extraordinary event of unresolved peril in the Atlantic World revolutionized British-American history painting.

Watson and the Shark, John Singleton Copley (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1738–1815 London), Oil on canvas, American

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.