In May 1861, the Royal Academy of Arts in London opened a new exhibition of paintings. Among the works on display was “Slaves Waiting for Sale” by Eyre Crowe, based on a sketch the English artist had made in March 1853 while visiting the slave market in Richmond, Virginia. Below is the sketch:
Eyre’s painting was well received by London art critics who viewed the Royal Academy exhibition in May 1861. It is yet another example of the English interest in American slavery as the United States descended into civil war, already documented in Civil War Emancipation in its editions of February 16 and April 6. Images that Americans either found common or merely wanted to ignore, the English consumed with fascination through art exhibitions and the illustrated press. With slavery abolished in the British Empire, they could afford their voyeuristic attitude as the peculiar institution tore apart their former colonies in North America. Soon the English public, and Americans too, would be confronted with images of slavery’s demise as the war began to undermine it. But in May 1861, Eyre Crowe confronted his nation with a painting depicting American slavery as entrenched as it was inhumane.