John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778

In 1749, 14-year-old British cabin boy Brook Watson went for swim alone in the port of Havana. A shark attacked him not once, not twice, but three times before he was miraculously saved by his fellow crew members. Watson lost his foot to the beast, noted in this painting by the blood in the water in the bottom left hand corner. The boy’s leg had to be amputated and his recovery in a Cuban hospital took three months.
When American painter Copley moved to London in 1776 he met Brook Watson, who likely commissioned this painting that now sits in the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Copley had never been to Havana and had probably never seen a shark before (photography had not yet been invented). It’s a bang-up job, all things considered. Watson went on to become the Lord Mayor of London in 1796.

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