Crowe had spent much of his childhood in Paris, where his father, Eyre Evans Crowe, served as the correspondent for London newspaper the Morning Chronicle. At age fourteen, the younger Crowe enrolled in the studio of the French painter Paul Delaroche. In 1844 Crowe moved with his parents to London, where he attended the Royal Academy School of Art. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1846 and was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1876.
Domestic Slave Trade
This forced migration of hundreds of thousands of enslaved peoples was usually attended by family asserted that family separations were rare and only occurred in unusual circumstances, but historians have determined that more than half the slaves sold by traders were forcibly separated either from a spouse or from one or both of their parents. Slaves were sold for a variety of reasons: as punishment, to pay debts or secure mortgages, or to settle an estate after the death of an owner. Families were usually not sold intact because family units did not command the highest prices. Instead, individual slaves, age fifteen to thirty, were the most profitable. Young mothers were sold away from their husbands and children, young fathers from their wives and children, and children from their parents.
After being held in jails, sometimes for weeks at a time, slaves were eventually sold, often to another trader. Sales either occurred at the jails or in salesrooms. These rooms were generally small and low-ceilinged, with little furniture or decoration. They consisted primarily of large, undivided interiors that sometimes held as many as a hundred people. Each room also had a piece of furniture specifically built for the trade conducted there: the auction block. Generally these were platforms that raised the auctioneer and the slaves for sale above the standing audience, to allow all a clear view of the "stock," as dealers commonly referred to the people they auctioned. In addition to the dedicated salesrooms, slaves were also sold at auction in the basements of several of Richmond's leading hotels, including the Exchange Hotel and the St. Charles Hotel.
Crowe's sketching that day in Richmond attracted considerable attention. Those around him began to take notice of the image he was creating and paid little attention to the auctioneer. Three times the auctioneer stopped and came over to question Crowe about what he was doing. The artist decided that because of the auctioneer's "ill-disguised rage," he ought to leave, quickly. He later reported that the entire audience determined him to be an abolitionist and he worried for his own safety. Concerned that it would cause trouble for Thackeray, who was well liked by Richmonders, Crowe was relieved to learn that friends helped to keep the incident quiet.
When the painting was exhibited in London in 1861, critics were struck by what they saw as the picture's apparent accuracy. One reviewer, for London's Art-Journal, declared it "one of the most important pictures of the exhibition." All were particularly taken with the figure of the male slave on the right. At the time, viewers were accustomed to seeing images of slaves who accepted their position with a happy complacency, as famously depicted by Stowe in her characterization of Uncle Tom. Crowe chose instead to paint a very different figure, a man described, by the same Art-Journal reviewer, as expressing "suffused indignant scorn, mingled with defiance." In the figure of this man, Crowe had depicted a slave who could resist, rebel, or run away at any moment. It was his most powerful statement about slavery and the slave trade.
The second image derived from Crowe's day in the salesroom in Richmond was also published in the Illustrated London News, alongside Slaves Waiting for Sale. The engraving, Slave Auction at Richmond, Virginia (1856), showed an event more commonly dramatized in abolitionist imagery: a slave auction. In Crowe's image, the viewer's attention is centered on the young woman on the block. To the left is a group of slave traders. Crowe described one of them as having "an unmistakable look of devilry," and drew him with a cowhide whip trailing between his legs, almost in imitation of an animal's tail.
Crowe's paintings and images exhibited in the years before and at the beginning of the American Civil War did much to spread awareness of the American slave trade. After the war, they were quickly forgotten and were not exhibited again until they were sold to collectors in America in the mid-twentieth century.
October 1852 - The novelist William Makepeace Thackeray and his secretary, Eyre Crowe, board the ship Canada in Liverpool bound for Boston, Massachusetts, where Thackeray will begin a lecture tour of the United States.
October–November 1852 - Eyre Crowe purchases a first edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.
March 3, 1853 - On his first morning in Richmond, Eyre Crowe reads of slave auctions in the newspaper and visits the slave auction rooms on Wall Street near downtown Richmond. There he sketches slaves waiting to be sold.
1854 - Eyre Crowe's painting After the Sale: Slaves Going South from Richmond, which depicts slaves being transported to a railway terminal in Richmond and bound for the Deep South, is exhibited under the title Going South: A Sketch from Life in America at the annual exhibition of the Society of British Artists, in London.
September 27, 1856 - "Sketches in the Free and Slave States of America" by Eyre Crowe is published in the Illustrated London News; the series includes Slave Auction at Richmond, Virginia, and Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia.
June 1, 1861 - In an unsigned review, "Exhibition of the Royal Academy," London's Art-Journal declares Eyre Crowe's Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia "one of the most important pictures of the exhibition."
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
McInnis, M. D. Eyre Crowe's Images of the Slave Trade. (2013, September 4). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Slave_Trade_Eyre_Crowe_s_Images_of_the.
- MLA Citation:
McInnis, Maurie D. "Eyre Crowe's Images of the Slave Trade." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 4 Sep. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 10, 2013 | Last modified: September 4, 2013