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This painting almost certainly represents the American Shakespearean actor Ira Frederick Aldridge (1807?–67) in character. Around 1826–7 the same sitter appears in several paintings by British artists, including another picture by Simpson, The Captive Slave 1827 (Art Institute of Chicago) for which this appears to be a related study. Aldridge came to Britain in 1824, and embarked on what became a hugely successful career in Europe. It is unclear whether he was working as a professional model for these artists, or sitting to them to promote his own public image.

February 2016