Portrait of Ira Aldridge

Object info

Unknown British artist, c.1827.

Oil on canvas

Where to see it
Wilberforce House Museum

Accession number

Purchase a print or image licence
Portrait of Ira Aldridge on Bridgeman Images

About this object

Recent studies have identified this painting as being of Ira Aldridge (1804 or 1807-1867), a great nineteenth century Shakespearian actor and campaigner. Aldridge was born in New York City on 24th July 1807, the year the abolition of the slave trade Act was passed. Facing harassment that Black actors of the time endured in the USA, Aldridge emigrated to England where he made a name for himself. He played at the Old Vic theatre in London as well as touring Europe to great acclaim.  As well as playing Shakespearean roles such as Othello, he also took on more traditionally white roles such as King Lear. He became an outspoken abolitionist and would speak against slavery to his theatre audiences.  Ira’s daughter, Irene Luranah Aldridge (1860-1932) was an English opera singer who performed in the US and Europe, and paved the way for Black opera singers.

This painting was previously attributed to the artist Thomas Barker of Bath (1769-1847) and later to John Philip Simpson (1782-1847). Recent research has uncovered that this is in fact a copy of the Simpson painting which was purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago, USA in 2008.

The original painting was exhibited at the London Royal Academy in 1827. The title of this painting was, 'The Captive Slave. But Ah! What wish can prosper or what prayer for merchants rich in cargoes of despair.'