​John Copley - Watson and the SharkOil on canvas, 1778, 182,1 x 229,7 cm, National Gallery in London

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Picture description and interpretation of the famous painting 'Watson and the Shark' by John Copley!

John Copley - Watson and the Shark

A small wooden boat with 9 passengers sweeps over the water to help another one. Because a shark has approached the boat and thus also the man in the water whose life is now threatened. The beast of prey has already opened its mouth to bite. The shark has apparently already caught one leg, the water is already mixed with blood. The men on the boat are in a flurry of excitement. Two try to pull the drifter into the boat, a third throws out a rope and a neighbor attacks the animal with a ship hook. The rowers manoeuvre the boat into the right position. In the background, large ships can be seen in the harbour, flanking the scene on the right and left.

Today there are three versions of the painting, which were commissioned by the businessman Brook Watson. It was a challenge for John Copley, otherwise known as a portrait painter. The motif was a novelty - it was painted in the style of heroic historical painting, but combined with a secular motif. The client had a childhood memory painted: At 14, Brook Watson was attacked by a shark while swimming at Havana Harbor. He was injured in the first attack, lost one leg in the second and since then had to wear a prosthesis and in the third attack - shown here - the shark could be driven away from his companions. Although the painter himself did not see Havana Harbor, he used prints and maps of this environment for the work. In this work the exit is open, but we can hope that the men can save the naked man.

The nakedness of the protagonist, his pose and the light, blonde, long hair, which blends homogeneously into the play of water, remind us of the depiction of ancient gods or demigods. The expressive gesture also releases muscle play. Iconographically, the gesture of the standing man on the right can be associated with works of St. Michael or George. The throat of the shark is sometimes associated with the gateway to hell. In fact, Watson was an orphan and only 14 when the bargemen were able to save him from the shark's third attack. In 1778, exhibited at the Royal Academy, the work was an immediate success and brought the painter a small fortune.

© the artinspector / alexandra tuschka