Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer
Othello, the Moor of Venice
James Northcote (English, 1746–1831)
oil on canvas, 30 × 25 in.
At age 19, Ira Aldridge had already played Othello in second-tier or working-class theatres around London (including the Coburg Theatre, still standing today under the name The Old Vic), and he went on a tour of smaller English cities. He performed in Manchester in 1827. Manchester was a center for the English anti-slavery movement and this portrait was the first-ever purchase by the Royal Manchester Institution. The painter, later a member of the Royal Academy of Artists, uses a masterful range of colors to create a romantic, evocative portrait of a man, avoiding both elaborate exotic costumes commonly associated with Othello and the flat, dark paint often used by artists of his time to paint people of African ancestry.