This 1944 portrait of Paul Robeson (1898-1976) playing Othello by Betsy Graves Reyneau hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
“Paul Robeson's appearance in the title role in The Emperor Jones catapulted him to stardom in 1925, and his popularity soared with a 1930 Othello that ran for nearly three hundred performances. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Joe in both the stage and movie versions of Show Boat, singing ‘Ol' Man River.’ He stopped making films in 1942, explaining, ‘The industry is not prepared to permit me to portray the life or express the living interests, hopes, and aspirations of the struggling people from whom I come.’ Robeson's left-wing sentiments became a focal point of anti-Communism in the postwar era, and his passport was revoked in 1950. His American career largely came to an end. With the return of his passport in 1958 after a court battle, he attempted to revitalize his career, but illness and exhaustion led to a life of seclusion during his latter years.” -- National Portrait Gallery
“His greatest stage achievement was in the role of Othello: in England in 1930, with Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona, and in New York in 1943, with Jose Ferrer as Iago. Meanwhile, Robeson appeared in nearly a dozen films, among them ‘Sanders of the River’ (1935) and ‘King Solomon's Mines’ (1937), both British made. He gave strong performances, but he gradually realized that the filmmakers had lied to him about the stereotyping of black characters; he quit me industry in 1951. Robeson's deepening resentment over racism in America drew him more and more into civil rights causes and affiliation with left-wing groups. By 1950 he was being denounced as a communist. When an exhibition of Betsy Graves Reyneau's portraits of black Americans opened in Boston in 1950, the mayor ordered the stunning image of Robeson as Othello barred from the show. – American Characters, Lewis, et al. 1999.The show ended in 1954 and the painting was never re-instated.
Betsy Graves Reyneau may have based the portrait on this photo of the 1943-44 Theatre Guild Production of Othello on Broadway.
Charles Henry Alston portrayed Paul Robeson, Actor, Artist, Athlete, in a World War II propaganda poster.
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