"The Price of Blood" by Thomas Satterwhite Noble

Thomas Satterwhite Noble (1835–1907)
The Price of Blood
Oil on canvas
39¼ x 49½ inches
Museum purchase; 1989.03.237

Thomas Satterwhite Noble's painting The Price of Blood directly addresses the atrocities of the slave trade. A well-dressed man, who is wearing his hat as if he is a visitor, stands, reading a piece of paper, behind the table on which there are stacks of gold. The man seated in the foreground is wearing a smoking jacket and slippers, which indicates the scene must be taking place in his home. Behind him a painting depicting the biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac hangs on the wall. At the left, a young man of mixed race who is not well dressed, with a tattered straw hat and no shoes, stands assertively and looks away from the event taking place. Looking closely, one may notice that the seated man and the young boy have similar facial features—so similar that they must be related. The old man is selling his mixed-race son into slavery. The gold on the table is the price of his blood.

The title for The Price of Blood was inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe's controversial novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was first published in 1852. Like Stowe, Noble strongly opposed the slave trade. He claimed that he chose to fight in the Confederate army during the Civil War because be believed in states' rights, but after the war ended he began to paint a series of work addressing the terrors of slavery. Having grown up in a slave-owning family in Lexington, Kentucky, the site of the most active slave market in the South, Noble saw first-hand the horrible reality of human beings buying and selling one another.