John Singleton Copley – Watson and the Shark

John Singleton Copley – Watson and the Shark – 1778
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C           
Commissioned by Brooke Watson to commemorate the day in his life when at 14 his leg was bitten off by a shark while he was swimming in the Havana harbor. Watson, who went on to a successful career despite the attack and the loss of his leg below the knee, commissioned the painting as a lesson for other unfortunates, including orphans like himself, in the fact that even the severest adversity can be overcome. He eventually became a Baron of England due to his successes. Watson and the Shark solidified Copley’s career in Britain and ensured his election to the Royal Academy in 1779 after its exhibition. As Watson was a British Tory, however, Copley’s heroic treatment of his patron angered many American critics and cost the artist some of his esteem back home. Copley painted a full scale replica which hangs in Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. See the original: