Auction Block: Hindman Offers Historic Portrait in September 2022

This issue, the auction block looks a bit different. We’re featuring Hindman Auctions’ portrait of actor and abolitionist Ira Aldridge, to be auctioned in their “American Furniture, Folk and Decorative Arts” series on September 14 and 15.  

Aldridge was born and educated in New York City, getting his experience through roles with The African Theatre and The African Grove Theatre, the latter being the first African American theater company in the U.S. He ended up going to London, thinking there would be less racism abroad.  Aldridge did get his first major role in London at age 18, but was met with racist theater reviews. Despite this, he continued to pursue acting and became very successful in English provinces, continental Europe and Russia. Aldridge portrayed over 40 different high-profile roles over the course of his 40-year career.  

The portrait being auctioned off depicts Aldridge as Mungo in “The Padlock,” which is roughly based on the short story “El celoso extremeño” by Miguel de Cervantes. The performance, typically in two acts, premiered in 1768 in London where a white Englishman performed the role of Mungo (a black servant from the West Indies) in blackface. Aldridge transformed the role, turning it into a dignified portrayal of the character’s humanity.  

“His legacy extends beyond just being a prolific performer,” said Ben Fisher, Hindman Auctions’ Director of Americana. “His ability to transform a role that was historically played in blackface and depicted the character of Mungo in a very racist way, to turn that into something that was more educational to people about the atrocities of racism and slavery is impactful in terms of what he worked for and toward throughout his prolific 40-year career in Europe.”  

Unfortunately, Aldridge died shortly before a return trip to the U.S. after slavery had been abolished. He had 50 to 100 pre-planned performances scheduled. “I think we’d know a lot more about him if he’d lived another six months,” Fisher added. “We would’ve had more of an opportunity to understand him in this country through his return here at the end of the 19th century.”  

This important work came to Hindman through a client, who saw it in a smaller auction and knew what the subject matter was. Not many others were able to identify it.  

Fisher mentioned that the work has a known mate, currently at Northwestern University. “It varies differently from our work, it tends to be a bit more academic whereas ours is more of a folk depiction,” Fisher said. “Folk art tends to be more of a caricature of individuals at times.”  

In addition to this pivotal portrait, other items up for auction will include Pilgrim Century furniture, old advertising, other paintings and a great group of nautical material from the former estate of collector, dealer and author Norman Flayderman. There will also be quilts and coverlets from all over the country and a jade mounted silver lighter, rumored to once belong to Eleanor Roosevelt.  

Next up for Hindman is their 40th anniversary in October. The company will be having a celebration this fall for team members and clients and an exciting fall auction schedule.  








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