An 1820s oil painting of 19th-century Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge has been discovered in a garage, as a play about his life opens at London’s Tricycle Theatre.
The unsigned and untitled picture has been described as an important discovery by art historian Michelle Linger, who labelled it a “document of black history”.
She said the picture is unusual because it shows the actor in a leading role in a production, whereas most paintings of him are portraits.
She added: “It is clearly not a Shakespeare play – and most people would have known him for his roles in Othello and The Merchant of Venice – which adds to the work’s singularity. Also, and perhaps crucially, it is very rare to find contemporary [19th-century] paintings of black performers, and particularly of this quality. It’s an important discovery.”
Linger said the picture bears a resemblance to one of the best-known paintings of Aldridge, by John Philip Simpson, called The Captive Slave.
It was found by art enthusiast Stephen Howes in his late mother’s garage.
The discovery comes as Adrian Lester (interviewed in October 11 issue of The Stage) portrays the actor in a new play, Red Velvet, by his wife Lolita Chakrabarti, at the Tricycle.