This tension is evident in the painting Watson and the Shark.
To prove that they are worthy painters at that time, artists would have to paint a historical painting. A historical painting was quite a testament to an artist’s skill because the painting is large and the historical details present in the painting should be accurate, since inaccuracy can result to embarrassment for the painter, as the errors are there for the audience to see. Usually, the subjects for historical paintings are biblical events and situations that preach morality and lessons. There are also paintings, like the name of the genre suggests, that chronicle historical events. Thus, it is also a responsibility of the painter to show the world which event is important and that judgment is also reflective of the painter’s priorities and personality. The historical paintings are artists’ interpretations of the said event; even if they have facts about the event, the painting is dependent on the artist’s knowledge of the event and this may lead to misinterpretation. If an event is misinterpreted, then the painting is not a success.
The subject of the painting Watson and the Shark is Brook Watson and it took place in Havana, Cuba in 1749. Brook Watson was the Lord Mayor of London at the time when he commissioned Copley to paint this unfortunate event in his life. He was fourteen years old when he went to Havana to work in his uncle’s trading ship. As a seaman, he was required to go out to sea. One day, while swimming, he was attacked by a shark. The shark attacked him twice: first by biting off a piece of flesh from his right calf, and then secondly, biting off his whole right foot. His colleagues, who were waiting for their captain to escort him to shore, helped him as they fought of the shark and saved Watson. This was considered to be the first shark attack (on a human) to be fully