'The Hunted Slaves', Richard Ansdell, 1861
Oil on canvas, 184 x 308cm
Accession Number WAG 3070
Painted in 1861, the year the American Civil War broke out, this dramatic picture shows two runaway slaves turning to face the dogs that have been set on them.
These animals could be seen as symbols of their white masters, but the escapees also face new dangers from their surroundings. A snake can be seen emerging from the bushes behind the woman.
The man is shown as a graceful, heroic and virile figure, reminiscent of such classical sculptures as the Laocoon and the Torso Belvedere.
The Civil War added topicality to the image of slaves struggling for both their freedom and their lives. When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1861 the painting was accompanied by a quotation from the poem 'The Dismal Swamp' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, describing an escaped slave's desperate flight. A passage from Stowe's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' also described a hunted slave attacked by dogs and may have inspired this piece.
Many Liverpool cotton merchants, who believed slavery kept cotton prices low, opposed the abolition of slavery. Blockades of Confederate ports during the war severely affected the Lancashire cotton mills. Ansdell donated this work to the Lancashire Cotton Relief Committee, who raised £700 through a lottery with it as the prize. The winner later gave the painting to the Corporation of Liverpool.