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Sharks

Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2017 7:19 pm
by rockfreak
Today's Guardian Review, which on a Saturday features books, gave me a nasty dose of deja vu when two recent books about sharks were reviewed and up popped a familiar picture. Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley, a disturbing vision of an ethereal looking naked blond man floating in the briney and about to be attacked by a shark. This is what I found so overwhelming about CH in the 1950s. Just as we Prep boys were filing out of dining hall after consuming the bl**dy awful food, we were confronted with this monstrosity of a picture. Which was designed to convey what exactly? The folly of bathing in the ocean swell when there were sharks around? Couldn't they have purchased a nice colourful Impressionist painting? It seemed as if everything was done to impress or overawe you. I suppose that to this day the unfortunate pupils of Leigh Hunt have to view this salutary lesson, although I've no doubt that today the food is better. This episode merely pointed my later artistic tastes towards anything sunny, cheerful and Mediterranean, even if it was all fractured up by Picasso.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2017 7:44 pm
by postwarblue
I seem to remember Watson and the Shark hanging in the School Library lobby and thus only visible to UF and above?

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2017 8:11 pm
by Katharine
I had to look this up in Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watson_and_the_Shark

You may be pleased to know, youngsters now at Horsham are no longer terrified by it At his death, Watson bequeathed the 1807 painting to Christ's Hospital, with the hope that it would prove "a most usefull Lesson to Youth". In September 1819 the school's committee of almoners voted to accept the painting and place it in the great hall. The school later moved to Horsham, Sussex. In 1963, it sold the painting to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. I trust the Foundation struck a hard bargain and got a good price for it, not that I would have wanted it!

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 6:35 am
by Martin
The sale of this painting went unannounced. When this was discovered there was criticism in published correspondence, especially that it was done in an apparently underhand manner, since it defied the donor’s wishes. If it did frighten Prep boys then it could so easily have been placed somewhere else. I understand the sum received was about £20 000 and one of the conditions of sale was that the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC) provide Housey with a copy. If this was done, I wonder where that copy is displayed.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 5:57 pm
by J.R.
I remember the painting very well.

It was in the small corridor just off the dining-hall which also housed a telephone call box which I often used.

I can't say the painting ever frightened me, though I did find it striking, and studied it often.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 6:08 pm
by Katharine
J.R. wrote:
Sun Jul 09, 2017 5:57 pm
It was in the small corridor just off the dining-hall which also housed a telephone call box which I often used.
You were allowed to use a telephone box??? We really were second class citizens. No way were we allowed such luxuries. I was allowed one phone call home in all my time, to tell my parents I had a place at Oxford, I was already 18 at the time.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 6:25 pm
by J.R.
Katharine wrote:
Sun Jul 09, 2017 6:08 pm
J.R. wrote:
Sun Jul 09, 2017 5:57 pm
It was in the small corridor just off the dining-hall which also housed a telephone call box which I often used.
You were allowed to use a telephone box??? We really were second class citizens. No way were we allowed such luxuries. I was allowed one phone call home in all my time, to tell my parents I had a place at Oxford, I was already 18 at the time.
If I remember correctly, a call home was 4 x old pennies, or you could always reverse the charges.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 7:01 pm
by LongGone
Since we had no phone at home, the issue never ca,e up.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 7:02 pm
by LongGone
Since we had no phone at home, the issue never came up.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 8:00 pm
by Adrian
When the painting was sold, the school had a copy made, which hung in the entrance to The Court Room which is where Maine used to eat. It held me in awe during my first year at CH since 1975 was the year that the film Jaws was released.

Since I am in Washington next month I look forward to looking for the original.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Sun Jul 09, 2017 9:27 pm
by rockfreak
I'm not suggesting the painting actually frightened anyone (at least pre-Jaws) but it still seemed to me typical of a certain lack of joie de vivre which existed at the time (the 1950s), particularly in the boarding schools. I suppose that the work was typical of the age of romantic painting and poetry when great disasters were depicted, some of them from real life. Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, for instance, based on a real life shipwreck. Perhaps they were designed to caution people against the march of science and rationality which had existed since the Enlightenment. A reminder of the power of nature. Anyway, it fitted in pretty well with the general tenor of cautionary morality which existed at CH in the 1950s and which I spent several years struggling to free myself from later. After I'd been corresponding with Nick Duffell for a while he sent me his prospectus for his Boarding School Survivor psychotherapy courses. But they weren't cheap (well not for me anyway) and I decided that since I'd taken my neuroses with me this far I might as well go to my grave with them. It's as if we were old friends.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Mon Jul 10, 2017 12:03 pm
by Foureyes
I may be wrong on this, but my understanding about the significance of this painting is that it is the first relatively modern work of art in which a black American has been shown in an heroic light, and this was why the US gallery was so keen to buy it. As to blood and gore, there is more shown every day on the internet, than is depicted here.
David :shock:

Re: Sharks

Posted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:35 am
by michael scuffil
This painting is important enough to have its own Wikipedia entry. And Copley felt it important enough to paint not one, but three originals.
When I was at CH, it was in the Court Room Passage, where it could be inspected close up, and probably fingered by little boys' dirty paws. This location, it must be admitted, was not ideal. However, venerable institutions should not dispose of major gifted artworks for the money, and its sale was a disgrace.

Re: Sharks

Posted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:04 pm
by J.R.
michael scuffil wrote:
Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:35 am
This painting is important enough to have its own Wikipedia entry. And Copley felt it important enough to paint not one, but three originals.
When I was at CH, it was in the Court Room Passage, where it could be inspected close up, and probably fingered by little boys' dirty paws. This location, it must be admitted, was not ideal. However, venerable institutions should not dispose of major gifted artworks for the money, and its sale was a disgrace.
I couldn't agree more !

Re: Sharks

Posted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:14 pm
by Phil
There’s another reason (quite apart from the portrayal of a black American in a heroic light) why this painting is of great interest. Although not particularly successful financially Copley was a highly regarded portraitist and rightly so (eg his portraits of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who represented Massachusetts in the signing of the USA Declaration of Independence). Watson and the Shark was Copley's first attempt at painting a natural/historical subject and hence for art historians is of much academic interest.