Skip to content
Back to top Back to Artists«

Richmond Barthé (1901-1989)

1 of 4
Feral Benga, 1935 (cast c.1960) bronze with brown...

Feral Benga, 1935 (cast c.1960)
bronze with brown patina
19 1/2 x 7 x 5 1/4 inches / 49.5 x 17.8 x 13.3 cm

Head of a Boy, c.1938 painted plaster 9 ½&q...

Head of a Boy, c.1938
painted plaster
9 ½" x 7" x 6"
16 ½" x 7" x 6" including base, signed


Untitled (Reclining Male Nude), c.1960 bronze 13&q...

Untitled (Reclining Male Nude), c.1960
13" x 9 1/2" x 14 3/4", signed

Black Madonna, 1961 bronze 13" x 9 3/4"...

Black Madonna, 1961
13" x 9 3/4" x 8 3/4" / 33.0 x 24.8 x 22.2 cm
21 1/2" x 9 3/4" x 8 3/4" / 54.6 x 24.8 x 22.2 cm including base, signed


Prints & Publications

Artist Information

“Man is like a light bulb. It can only get light through the little wire that connects it directly with the power plant. So it has to go within itself for light. Man, like the light bulb, is connected to the universal mind, cosmic consciousness or God – whatever you want to call it – and the only way he can get help or inspiration is by going within himself and drawing on this power. This is where artists, poets, composers and scientists get their ideas and inspiration. It is the source of all knowledge. You just have to go within, relax and let it flow through you.”

An important modernist sculptor who was interested in the dynamism, energy and movement of the human body, Richmond Barthé was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi in 1901, and his artistic talents were recognized from an early age. Local acquaintances and a Catholic pastor pooled resources in order to send him to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1924. At the Art Institute, Barthé began to model in clay after being introduced to sculpture by his anatomy instructor Charles Schroeder. In 1928, Barthé won a Rosenwald Fellowship, and he continued his studies at the Art Students League in New York City. He moved to Harlem in 1929, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, where he entered an established network of gay social circles. His most important supporters were lifelong friends, writer Alain Locke and poet Richard Bruce Nugent. He was also friends with poets Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen, cabaret performer Jimmie Daniels, playwright Harold Jackman, photographer Carl Van Vechten, writer Lincoln Kirstein, and artists Paul Cadmus and Jared French. Although Barthé never publicly revealed his homosexuality, his artwork exploited the black male nude for its political, racial, aesthetic, and erotic significance, and often displayed homoerotic themes.

Barthé spent the 1930s expanding and establishing his artistic career, aided by his participation in Harmon Foundation exhibitions in 1929, 1930, and 1931. In that decade he received numerous public and private commissions, including a Federal Arts Project commission at West Point and a Treasury Department commission for a frieze for the Harlem River Housing Project. In 1932, Barthé became the first black artist added to the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and in 1940, he was named a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow for study in Fine Arts. Barthé left New York in the 1940s and traveled to Jamaica, where he remained until the mid-1960s. Subsequent years were spent in Switzerland, Spain and Italy before settling in Pasadena, California where he died in 1989.

He is known for his portrayals of religious subjects, figures from black history, notable stage and dance performers, and public works. His figures are distinguished by their elegantly elongated forms, spiritual emotion and sense of movement. Barthé often worked from memory or used himself as a model. He is noted for his technical proficiency, and in his work, Barthé attempted to convey eternal hope by capturing the beauty of the human body and spirit. In 1992, Barthé was the subject of a major traveling exhibition, Richmond Barthé and Richard Hunt: Two Sculptors, Two Eras, which explored Barthé’s strong influence on a new generation of African-American sculptors. In 2009, the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles presented a solo exhibition, Richmond Barthé: His Life in Art, which traveled to several venues throughout the United States until 2012, and in 2010, the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, MS also presented the solo exhibition Richmond Barthé: The Seeker. His work was also recently featured in the group exhibitions Afrocosmologies: American Reflections, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT (2019) and Tell Me Your Story: 100 Years of Storytelling in African American Art, Kunsthal KAde, Amersfoort, The Netherlands (2020).

Barthé’s work is in the permanent collection of many major institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago (IL); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA); The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MA); The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (TX); Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC); Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond); and Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University (New Haven, CT).


Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
Arthur Brisbane Memorial, New York, NY
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA
Church of St. Jude, Montgomery, AL
Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME
College of St. Mary of the Springs, Columbus, OH
Countee Cullen Library, New York, NY
Fisk University Gallery of Art, Memphis, TN
Gibbs Museum, Charleston, SC
Howard University Gallery of Art, Howard University, Washington, DC
IBM Corporation, New York, NY
Jamaica Public Library, St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, West Indies
Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MI
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Oberlin College Museum, Oberlin, OH
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
The San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX
SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA
The Schomburg Collection, The New York Public Library, New York, NY
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
St. Augustines Seminary, Bay St. Louis, MI
Theosophical Society, Adyar, India
Tuskegee University Gallery of Art, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL
University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MI
University of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University, New Haven, CT