The unbent knee: memory, identity, and the transatlantic politics of the resistant black gaze
In October 1852, a young artist Eyre Crowe experienced a life-altering transatlantic journey. William Thackeray, the British author of Vanity Fair, had been invited to do a series of lectures in America, inviting Crowe along as his secretary. In his writings, Crowe, the son of a journalist and the brother of a diplomat, records how his explorations into the heart of American culture led to a jarring confrontation with the American slave trade. These harrowing experiences and the political frenzy ignited by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 bestseller, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, incited Crowe to join the growing antislavery movement. Between 1854 and 1861, Crowe would publish two autobiographical articles about his journey to America and produce five paintings prominently featuring black people. This thesis analyzes the second work Crowe created, After the Sale: Slaves Heading South from Richmond (1854). I argue that though After the Sale was created by a British artist, it should be reappraised as a prime example of mid-nineteenth-century transatlantic cultural hybridity. This assertion is supported by the myriad parallels between the various characters, postures, and groupings seen in After the Sale and in other visual and literary media found in Anglo-American and Anglo-French societies. However, beyond the visual hybridity of After the Sale, this paper also investigates how Crowe translated his professed abolitionist ideologies into a visual declaration against the institution of slavery.