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

Ira Aldridge

Private Collection; on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London

2 Likes voting
is closed

Thanks for Liking

Please Like other favourites!
If they inspire you please support our work.

Make a donation Close
  • Use this image
  • ShareShare this

Ira Aldridge

after James Northcote
oil on canvas, circa 1826
30 in. x 24 7/8 in. (763 mm x 632 mm)
Lent by a private collection, 2012
Primary Collection
NPG L251

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • James Northcote (1746-1831), Painter; pupil and biographer of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Artist associated with 103 portraits, Sitter associated with 23 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In 1825, James Northcote painted Ira Aldridge an American actor who was the first black actor to play Othello in Britain. This image is a copy of James Northcote's portrait of Aldridge which was bought by Manchester Art Gallery shortly after Aldridge's performance as Othello in Manchester. It is thought to represent Aldridge in that role.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 65
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 169
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 464
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 131 Read entry

    Ira Aldridge was the first major black actor on the British stage. He arrived from America in 1824 and first appeared in London in 1825 playing the part of Orinokoo in The Revolt of Surinam, or, a Slave’s Revenge at the Royal Coburg Theatre (now the Old Vic). Reviewers were surprised by his American accent and light complexion. Yet even though audiences were enthusiastic about his acting, Aldridge was relegated to playing in regional theatres. This portrait depicts him as Othello in Manchester.

    Aldridge was finally able to make his West End debut, in the same role, in 1833, two weeks after the actor Edmund Kean had died. But Kean had dominated such tragic roles and there was much hostility to a real black man acting as Othello alongside a white Desdemona, with the result that the production quickly closed.

    After this false start, Aldridge cultivated roles beyond the standard repertoire and revived Shakespeare’s rarely performed Titus Andronicus, turning the Moor Aaron into an unlikely tragic hero. After several Continental tours in the 1850s and 1860s, he developed a significant following in Europe and died in Poland in 1867.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1826back to top

Current affairs

Riots break out in Lancashire against the use of the power loom, invented by Edmund Cartwright. The looms were gradually being introduced across the country, replacing large numbers of manual workers.

Art and science

Thomas Telford's Menai Straits and Conway Suspension Bridges open, the largest of their kind at the time.


Carl Weber arrives to live in England after his opera Der Freischutz is the hit of the London season.

Tell us more back to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

If you require information from us, please use our Archive enquiry service. You can buy a print of most illustrated portraits. Select the portrait of interest to you, then look out for a Buy a Print button. Prices start at £6 for unframed prints, £25 for framed prints. If you wish to license this image, please use our Rights and Images service.

Please note that we cannot provide valuations.

We digitise over 8,000 portraits a year and we cannot guarantee being able to digitise images that are not already scheduled.

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.


How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.


Our channel

View a wide collection of video content on our YouTube channel from past projects to our latest films.

Sit back and watch

Artist and sitter interviews

Get insights into creating portraiture from BP Portrait Award 2020 artists and their sitters.

Explore behind the scenes

Sleeping Awake

Watch our film created to say ‘goodbye’ to the Gallery before we closed for our major transformation project.

Hear our story