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COMING HOME: Ira Frederick Aldridge

Past national programme archive
3 October 2019 - 1 March 2020

The Holburne Museum, Bath

Ira Aldridge
after James Northcote
circa 1826
NPG L251

Ira Aldridge was the first black actor to establish a successful career on the British stage. Born in New York, he came to England in 1824, first appearing at a London theatre the following year. At first, Aldridge received a mixed reception. Starring in Othello at the Theatre Royal in Bath in 1832, local contemporary reviews praised his talent. A year later, Aldridge made his West End debut. London audiences responded positively but critics were shocked by the idea of a black actor and the play was soon cancelled. Later in his career, Aldridge successfully toured Europe, establishing a reputation that led to his triumphant return to the London stage in 1855. He died on tour in Poland, having become one of the highest paid actors in the world.

Best known for his Shakespearean roles, this portrait depicts Aldridge as Othello. It is an anonymous copy after a painting by James Northcote. The original portrait was considered the ‘best executed’ work in the 1826 exhibition of the Royal Manchester Institution, now in Manchester City Art Gallery, where the Northcote painting can be seen on display today.

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