The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

COMING HOME: Paul Robeson

20 October - 14 December 2020

Reading Museum

Paul Robeson
by Neil Libbert
1958
NPG x136292

The son of a former enslaved man, Robeson graduated at the top of his class from Rutgers University in New Jersey where he studied law. In 1919, he attended Columbia Law School, but turned to the performing arts due to the lack of opportunities for black legal professionals. Robeson's early stage success came with his title role in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones in New York (1924) and London (1925). Between 1925 and 1942, he appeared in eleven feature films, including Show Boat (1936), Song of Freedom (1936) and The Proud Valley (1940). During the 1950s, Robeson's political activism forced him to leave the United States, and he lived in the UK from 1958 to 1963. Robeson gave song recitals world wide, returning to the US when he retired.

Robeson was photographed by Neil Libbert for the Manchester Guardian at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. After studying at art school in Manchester, Libbert opened his own studio there. He joined the staff of the Manchester Guardian, and moved to the paper's London office in 1961. He stayed with the Guardian until 1965 then worked under contract to The Sunday Times and the Illustrated London News until 1968 when he again became a freelance photographer. Libbert still regularly covers theatre photography for the Observer.

Find out more