Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer
Ira Aldridge as Othello
Henry Perronet Briggs (English, ca. 1791–1844)
oil on canvas, 501⁄2 × 403⁄4 in.
This portrait now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., along with portraits of U.S. Presidents, Supreme Court justices, and cultural luminaries like Louis Armstrong, Maya Angelou, and Michael Jackson. Paintings of celebrity actors “in character” and in costume were very popular among the wealthy in the early 1800s. Less wealthy fans could purchase prints, and illustrations of famous actors were featured at the front of printed scripts. Art historians are uncertain if Aldridge “sat” for Briggs, or if Briggs painted this portrait from memory.