A Youth Rescued from a Shark.

GREEN Valentine after; COPLEY John Singleton (1779].)


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Hand-coloured mezzotint (measuring 462 by 598 mm) cut within original platemark to the edges of the image, mounted on larger sheet (measuring 568 by 710 mm) with a watercolour border. A few small stains to the print, very good otherwise. Larger sheet is slightly dust-soiled and has some minor closed tears to the margins. We cannot provide the state, as the lettering (found below the image in untrimmed examples) is not present. [London,   

A remarkable mezzotint, made by arguably the best British engraver of the period, after Copley’s dramatic painting.

When Watson and the Shark was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1778, it generated a sensation, partly because such a grisly subject was an absolute novelty. In 1749, 14-year-old Brook Watson had been attacked by a shark while swimming in Havana harbour. Copley’s pictorial account of the traumatic ordeal shows nine seamen rushing to help the boy, while the bloody water proves he has just lost his right foot. To lend equal believability to the setting, Copley, who had never visited the Caribbean, consulted maps and prints of Cuba.

The rescuers’ anxious expressions and actions reveal both concern for their imperilled companion and a growing awareness of their own peril. Time stands still as the viewer is forced to ponder Watson’s fate. Miraculously, he was saved from almost certain death and went on to become a successful British merchant, soldier and later Lord Mayor of London.

Although Copley successfully created a scene of extreme tension and immediacy, the seemingly spontaneous poses were actually based on art historical precedents. The harpooner’s pose, for example, recalls Raphael’s altarpiece of the Archangel Michael using a spear to drive Satan out of heaven.

The oil painting’s enormous acclaim ensured Copley’s appointment to the prestigious Royal Academy and was reproduced in several engravings, bringing the image to a wider audience and further popularising its appeal. Green, who was Britain’s most skilled proponent of mezzotint engraving, produced three plates of Copley’s work; all of which display his marvellous adeptness at the translation of paint into print.

Stock Code: 184588

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