Barthé, Richmond

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BarthÉ, Richmond

January 28, 1901
March 6, 1989

Sculptor Richmond Barthé was born in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, to Richmond Barthé and Marie Clementine Roboteau. His father died at the age of twenty-two, when Richmond was only one month old. Left with a devoted mother whose influence on his early life and his aesthetic development was significant, Barthé credited her with providing experiences that nurtured his desire to become an artist.

At the age of twelve, Barthé's work was shown at a county fair in Mississippi. He continued to demonstrate his remarkable talent, and at age eighteen, having moved to New Orleans, he won his first prize, a blue ribbon for a drawing that he entered in a parish (county) competition.

In New Orleans Barthé's work attracted the attention of Lyle Saxon of the Times-Picayune. Saxon tried unsuccessfully to register Barthé in a New Orleans art school. The refusal was based on the young man's color rather than on his artistic ability. This early rejection made Barthé more determined than ever to become an artist of note.

In 1924, with the aid of a Catholic priest, the Rev. Harry Kane, Barthé, with little formal training and a great deal of ambition and talent, was admitted to the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. During his four years there he followed the curriculum designed for majors in painting. However, during his senior year he was introduced to sculpture by his anatomy teacher, Charles Schroeder, who also suggested that a better understanding of the third dimension might improve his knowledge of painting. This, according to Barthé, was the beginning of his long career as a sculptor.

In February 1929, following his graduation from the institute, Barthé moved to New York. The following two decades saw him build a reputation that would be the envy of many of his peers. The 1930s and 1940s would see him rise to great prominence and gain high praise for his work from both critics and collectors.

By 1934 Barthé was granted his first solo show at the Caz Delbo Galleries in New York City. Numerous other exhibitions and important commissions followed thereafter. His works were added to important collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art (African Dancer ), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago (The Boxer ).

Barthé's commissions included a bas relief of Arthur Brisbane for New York's Central Park and an eight-by-eighty-foot frieze, Green Pastures: The Walls of Jericho, for the Harlem River Housing Project. Other commissions included two portrait busts and a garden sculpture for the Edgar Kaufman house (Falling Water ), designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright; a Booker T. Washington portrait bust for the Hall of Fame of New York University; an Othello modeled after Paul Robeson for Actor's Equity; and the General Toussaint-Louverture Monument, Portau-Prince, Haiti.

In 1947 Barthé moved from New York to Jamaica, West Indies, to escape the tense environment of big-city life, which was taking its toll on his creative energies. By this time he was considered to be one of the leading "moderns" of American art, but he decided to abandon this role at the peak of his career for the calm and peaceful countryside of rural Jamaica, where he lived until 1969. Barthé later traveled to Europe, where he spent several years enjoying the company of old friends and immersing himself in the art and culture of the Italian Renaissance masters Donatello and Michelangelo, whose works he revered and to whom he owed a great debt.

In 1976 Barthé returned to the United States. Following a brief stay in Queens, New York, he moved to Altadena, California, where he lived until his death in 1989.

See also Robeson, Paul; Washington, Booker T.


Catlett, Elizabeth. Interview with Barthé. International Review of African-American Art 23 (October 1982).

"Richmond Barthé." In A History of African-American Artists, From 1792 to the Present, by Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson, pp. 136146. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.

"Richmond Barthé: Sculptor." Crisis (June 1948): 164165.

"Sculptor." Ebony (November 1949).

samella lewis (1996)