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Barthe, Richmond (1901-1989) | Amistad Research Center

Name: Barthe, Richmond (1901-1989)
Fuller Form: Richmond Barthe

Historical Note:

Richmond Barthe was an African American sculptor known for his public works. Originally from the South, Barthe moved north in pursuit of training as a artist and eventually became associated with the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first African American artists to focus thematically on the lives of African Americans. 

Born on January 28, 1901 in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to parents Richmond Barthe and Marie Clementine Roboteau, Barthe's father died at 22 when Barthe was only one-month-old. When Barthe was very young, he developed talent as an artist. When he was twelve years old, his work was exhibited at the Mississippi County fair, where he received a blue ribbon for first prize. In 1915 at the age of 14, a family from New Orleans hired Barthe as a butler and handyman, at which time he quit school and continued drawing in his free time. Lyle Saxon, a literary critic for the New Orleans Times Picayune, recognized his talent and tried to help his artistic development by enrolling him into New Orleans area art schools, but he was denied admission because of his race. Saxon and parish priest Harry Kane were determined to find an art school in the United States where Barthe could expand his talents.

With the aid of the Reverend Kane, and with no high school degree, Barthe was admitted into the Art Institute of Chicago in 1924. Majoring in painting, he paid for his supplies by working as a porter and a busboy. In 1927, Barthe was introduced to sculpting by his anatomy teacher, Charles Schroeder. He exhibited two busts of his classmates in the Negro in Art Week Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, which were later also shown at the Chicago Art League annual exhibition.

After his graduation in 1928, he moved to New York City (1930-1939) and established his first studio in Harlem. During this time, he developed his reputation as a Harlem Renaissance sculptor, although he became impatient with racial discrimination and being called a "race" artist. Harlem was a center for gay life, and Barthe became integrated into this culture, having many gay patrons and subjects. A major theme in his work was the exploration of race and homoeroticism. His early works were mostly of African subjects, such as African Woman and Blackberry Woman, and the theme of homosexuality was made apparent in sculptures of male nudes, such as Feral Benga, and African Man Dancing. He was inspired by Italian Renaissance artists Michelangelo, Pollaiuolo, Ghirlandaio, and Reni. Barthe's first solo exhibitions began in 1934 at the Caz-Delbo Gallery in New York, Grand Rapids Art Gallery in Michigan, and Women's City Art Club in Chicago. His work was also exhibited in numerous group shows at various institutions, such as the Harmon Foundation and New York's World Fair.

In the mid-1930s, Barthe moved from Harlem to midtown Manhattan to move closer to theatrical celebrities. Here, he made portrait busts and also sculpted his largest work, an 8 x 80 ft. frieze for the Harlem River Housing Project. In the 1940s, he received numerous awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1945 was elected to the National Sculpture Society. He also won the Audubon Artists' Gold Medal of Honor, and the James J. Huey Award for interracial injustice. He was a member of the Liturgical Arts Society, New York Clay Club, and the Sculptors' Guild.

In 1949, Barthe purchased a house in Jamaica to escape the violence of the city, but continued to split his time between the small village of Colgate, Jamaica, and New York City. In 1950, he received a commission from the Haitian government to sculpt Toussaint L'Ouverture, which now stands in the front of the palace of Port-au-Prince. In 1964, he received the key to the city of Bay Saint Louis. He left the West Indies because of increasing violence in 1969 and spent five years traveling between Switzerland, Italy, and Spain, finally settling in Pasadena, California to work on his memoirs and create many of his works. Actor James Garner, took an interest in Barthe's work in California, providing him with financial assistance. In 1978, he had a solo exhibition at the William Grant Still Center in Louisiana and was honored by the League of Allied Arts (1981). He died in 1989, and his retrospective was held at the American Art Association in New York in 1990. His work toured around the United States along with that of Richard Hunt in the Landau/Traveling Exhibition, Two Sculptors, Two Eras. His work is found in the Metropolitan and Whitney Museums in NY, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and also the Art Institute of Chicago.


Golus, Carrie. Biography: Richmond Barthe. http://www.answers.com/topic/richmond-barth (accessed July 30, 2009).

Oxford University Press, African American National Biography, vol. 1, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. et al, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 289.

Vendryes, Margaret Rose. Barthe, A Life in Sculpture. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

Note Author: Deja Trudeaux

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