18th C. Black Shakespearean actor’s portrait to star at Hindman in September
CINCINNATI – Hindman Auctions announces it will offer a portrait of the actor and abolitionist Ira Aldridge in its September 14 to 15 American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction. As the first Black Shakespearean actor to gain international recognition, Aldridge was a trailblazing figure in the theater and used his platform to promote the abolitionist cause in America.
Born and educated in New York City, Aldridge gained early acting experience through roles with the African Theatre, later the African Grove Theatre, the first African American theater company in the United States. When the company’s productions were met with complaints and outright violence from white neighbors, Aldridge set off for England with the hope that he would encounter less racism abroad. Aldridge landed his first high-profile role on the London stage at age 18, but was met with unreservedly racist critiques from London theater critics. Despite his unfavorable reception in the capital city, Aldridge went on to achieve both critical and commercial success in the English provinces and throughout continental Europe and Russia. Aldridge played more than 40 major roles and received international accolades during the course of his four-decade career.
This portrait depicts Aldridge as Mungo in The Padlock, a farcical libretto loosely modeled after the short story El celoso extremeno by Miguel de Cervantes. The two-act performance premiered in 1768 at London’s Drury Lane Theatre, where a white Englishman in blackface performed the role of Mungo, a black servant from the West Indies. Aldridge transformed the role of Mungo, once a racist caricature, into a more dignified portrayal, meant to convey the character’s humanity. Aldridge was an outspoken abolitionist, and often capitalized on his platform to directly address his audience on the evils of slavery and other societal inequities.
In addition to this important work, Hindman’s American Furniture, Folk and Decorative Arts auction will include property of nautical interest from legendary antiques dealer Norm Flayderman; an Andrew Clemens sand bottle; stoneware; metropolitan, country and Shaker furniture; quilts, coverlets and needlework samples; portraiture and landscape paintings; and silver and weathervanes.