After the Sale: Slaves Going South from Richmond

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After the Sale: Slaves Going South from Richmond
Eyre Crowe
Oil on canvas
27 x 36 in.
Chicago History Museum purchase
1957.27, ICHi-52422

Can you imagine being sold and separated from your family? That is what is happening in this painting by Eyre Crowe, an English artist. Look closely at the center of the painting. Do you see the woman wearing a blue cloak, seated in a wagon, and handing a small child to a bearded man standing on the street? She and several companions have been sold by the traders depicted in the lower right hand corner of the painting. Crowe visited America in 1852-53 with the well-known writer William M. Thackery, author of Vanity Fair, a famous novel poking fun at the vain and selfish in English society. Crowe and Thackeray traveled throughout America, stopping in many places, including Richmond, Virginia, where this scene took place. Crowe made several drawings and paintings of the enslaved people that he saw on his trip. After viewing Crowe’s related 1861 painting, Slaves Waiting for Sale, art critics responded that “the appalling guilt of the accursed system of slave-trading was never more successfully depicted.”

At the time Crowe visited Richmond, thousands of African American slaves were being sold from upper South states like Virginia and Kentucky to large cotton plantations in the Deep South. Slave traders paid little heed to the pleadings of families that they not be separated, including mothers from their children, as depicted here. Such heart-rending facts helped fuel a heated national debate over slavery.  

1. What message about slavery is the painter trying to send?

2. Compare this painting to Lincoln’s Drive Through Richmond; how are they similar? How are they different?

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