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Ira Frederick Aldridge

(1807-1867), Actor

Sitter in 4 portraits
Born and educated at the African Free School in New York, Aldridge came to Britain in 1824, and first appeared in the lead role of Othello at the Royalty Theatre in the east end of London the following year. In 1833 he made his West End debut playing Othello again at Covent Garden, replacing Edmund Kean. Audiences were positive but reviews were mixed on the idea of a black actor in such a prestigious role. Aldridge continued to perform around Britain, seeking out various black roles as well as famous typically white roles, including Lear, Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III. He toured Europe, becoming one of the highest paid actors in the world. His subsequent reputation led to a triumphant return to the London stage in 1855. Aldridge is the only actor of African-American descent among the 33 actors of the English stage honoured with bronze plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Watch a film clip on the sitter from the BBC Archive in the Media section below

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Ira Aldridge, after James Northcote - NPG L251

Ira Aldridge

after James Northcote
oil on canvas, circa 1826
On display in Room 19 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG L251

Ira Aldridge as Mungo in 'The Padlock', by T. Hollis, published by  John Tallis & Company, after  William Paine - NPG D17895

Ira Aldridge as Mungo in 'The Padlock'

by T. Hollis, published by John Tallis & Company, after William Paine
stipple and line engraving, published circa 1850
NPG D17895

Ira Aldridge as Aaron in 'Titus Andronicus', published by John Tallis & Company, after  William Paine - NPG D17967

Ira Aldridge as Aaron in 'Titus Andronicus'

published by John Tallis & Company, after William Paine
stipple and line engraving, published circa 1850
NPG D17967

Ira Aldridge, by Miklós Barabás - NPG D7311

Ira Aldridge

by Miklós Barabás
lithograph, 1853
NPG D7311

Media

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