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Traditionally catalogued as an anonymous ‘Head of a Negro’, this almost certainly represents the American Shakespearean actor Ira Frederick Aldridge (1807?-67) in character. Around 1826-7 the same sitter, apparently Aldridge judging by comparison with other likenesses, appears in several paintings by British artists, including another picture by Simpson, The Captive Slave (Art Institute of Chicago). Aldridge came to Britain in 1824, and was becoming established as an actor at the time these pictures were created. It is unclear whether he was working as a professional model for these artists, or sitting to them to promote his own public image.

October 2013