Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery is open to the public Wed - Sun, with timed-entry passes required for all visitors. On-site tours and events are currently suspended and all public programs will be online

Ira Aldridge as Othello

Ira Aldridge as Othello
Artist
Henry Perronet Briggs, c. 1791 - 18 Jan 1844
Sitter
Ira Frederick Aldridge, 24 Jul 1807 - 10 Aug 1867
Date
c. 1830
Type
Painting
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
Stretcher: 128.3 x 103.5 x 5.1cm (50 1/2 x 40 3/4 x 2")
Frame: 162.6 x 136.8 x 12.7cm (64 x 53 7/8 x 5")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Restrictions & Rights
CC0
Object number
NPG.72.73
Exhibition Label
Born New York City
Ira Aldridge was the first American actor to achieve European renown. He began his career with the all-Black African Grove Theatre in New York City but left the United States at seventeen to seek professional opportunities across the Atlantic. When he appeared in starring roles in London in 1825, theater critics disparaged his performances in racist terms. Aldridge spent the next twenty-five years touring provincial British theaters, steadily winning acclaim for roles ranging from Shakespearean tragedy to slapstick comedy.
Turning racial difference to his advantage, Aldridge promoted himself as “The African Tragedian” and claimed descent from a Senegalese prince. He made Othello his signature role but also performed in abolitionist melodramas and played Shylock, Macbeth, and Richard III in whiteface. Aldridge’s career reached its zenith during tours of Russia, France, and Poland in the 1850s and 1860s. He was planning a triumphant U.S. tour at the time of his death.
Provenance
Sir George Alexander; presented in 1907 to The Garrick Club, London; sold to NPG 1972.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Exhibition
Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900
On View
NPG, East Gallery 120