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Audio Stop 408

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As if from another boat on the water, we look onto the side of a rowboat crowded with nine men trying to save a pale, nude young man who flails in the water in front of us as a shark approaches, mouth agape, from our right in this horizontal painting. In the water, the man floats with his chest facing the sky, and arms flailing, with his right arm overhead and the other stretched out by his side. Extending to our left, his left leg is bent and the right leg is straight, disappearing below the knee. His long blond hair swirls in the water and he arches his back, his wide-open eyes looking towards the shark behind him. To our right, the shark rolls up out of the water with its gaping jaws showing rows of pointed teeth. In the boat, eight of the men have light or swarthy complexions and one man has dark brown skin. The man with dark skin stands at the back center of the boat and he holds one end of a rope, which falls across the boat and around the upper arm of the man in the water. Another man stands at the stern of the boat, to our right, poised with a long, hooked harpoon over the side of the boat, ready to strike the shark. His long dark hair blows in the wind and he wears a navy-blue jacket with brass buttons, white breeches, blue stockings, and his shoes have silver buckles. Two other men wearing white shirts with blousy sleeves lean over the side of the boat, bracing each other as they reach toward the man in the water. An older, balding man holds the shirt and body of one of this pair and calls something, his mouth open. The other men hold long oars and look into the water with furrowed brows. The tip of a shark’s tail sticks out of the water to our right of the boat, near the right edge of the canvas. Along the horizon line, which comes three-quarters of the way up the composition, buildings and tall spires line the harbor. The masts of boats at port creates a string of crosses against the light blue sky. Steely gray clouds sweep across the upper left corner of the canvas and the sky lightens to pale, butter-yellow at the horizon.

John Singleton Copley

Watson and the Shark, 1778

West Building, Main Floor - Gallery 60B

West Building Verbal Descriptions