Skip to content
Back to top Back to Artists«

Richmond Barthé (1901-1989)

1 of 4
Feral Benga, 1935 bronze on marble base 18 3/4 x 6...
Feral Benga, 1935
bronze on marble base
18 3/4 x 6 7/8 x 4 1/2 inches / 47.6 x 17.5 x 11.4 cm
19 5/8 x 6 7/8 x 5 3/4 inches / 49.8 x 17.5 x 14.6 cm including base
Head of a Boy, c.1938 painted plaster on wood base...
Head of a Boy, c.1938
painted plaster on wood base
9 1/2 x 7 x 6 inches / 24.1 x 17.8 x 15.2 cm
16 1/2 x 7 x 6 inches / 41.9 x 17.8 x 15.2 cm including base
Untitled (Reclining Male Nude), c.1960 bronze 13 1...
Untitled (Reclining Male Nude), c.1960
13 1/4 x 15 x 9 3/4 inches / 33.7 x 38.1 x 24.8 cm
Black Madonna, 1961 bronze on marble base 13 x 9 3...
Black Madonna, 1961
bronze on marble base
13 x 9 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches / 33 x 24.8 x 22.2 cm
19 1/4 x 9 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches / 48.9 x 24.8 x 22.2 cm including base


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.”[1]

The foremost sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance, Richmond Barthé (1901–1989) was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the only child of Richmond and Clémentine Barthé. His father died within months of his birth, leaving his mother to support the family through her gifted needlework. Though he was uninterested in his schooling, Barthé was a voracious reader and developed an impressive, self-taught drawing talent at an early age. When he was sixteen years old, Barthé left home to work as a houseboy for a wealthy family in New Orleans, where he became interested in the Romantic and Neoclassical artwork they collected. In 1924, local acquaintances and his parish priest raised funding for Barthé to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. He excelled as a painter, taking classes with Charles Schroeder and studying privately with Archibald J. Motley, Jr. However, a series of portraiture exercises in clay prompted Barthé’s turn to sculpture and led to his first institutional recognition when the works were featured in the 1927 exhibition Negro in Art Week at The Art Institute of Chicago. In 1928, Barthé won a Rosenwald Fellowship and moved to New York City, where he continued his studies at the Art Students League. He settled in Harlem in 1929, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, where he entered an established scene of intellectual and creative social circles. Though he remained active in the social circles of Harlem, he moved his residence and studio to Greenwich Village a year later.

Barthé’s most important supporters and lifelong friends were the writer and philosopher Alain Locke and the 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 and ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein, and artists Paul Cadmus and Jared French. Although Barthé never publicly revealed his homosexuality, much of his artwork explores the political, racial, and homoerotic significance of the Black male nude. However, while this was prevailing focus of his oeuvre, Barthé applied his astute capacity for realism to the portrayal of a wide range of individuals throughout his career, including historical figures such as Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington Carver; contemporary celebrities from the dance and theater world such as Rose McClendon, Harald Kreutzberg, Josephine Baker, and Paul Robeson; and archetypal, religious, and mythological subjects whose physical likeness were often inspired by people he encountered in his daily life.

Barthé enjoyed consistent recognition for his work following his move to New York City. In 1929, 1930, and 1931 the Harmon Foundation included his sculpture in their prestigious group exhibitions of works by leading Black artists. In 1931, the Caz-Delbo Gallery mounted a solo exhibition on the artist and, two years later, featured his work in a group exhibition alongside works by Picasso, Manet, Delacroix, Matisse, and Pissarro. In 1932, Barthé became the first Black artist to enter the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York when they acquired The Blackberry Woman (1932). The Whitney Barthé’s African Dancer (1933) in First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Sculpture, Watercolors, and Prints the following year and the mounted a solo exhibition of his work in 1934. Barthé also received numerous public and private commissions throughout the decade, most notably Green Pastures: The Walls of Jericho (1937–38), a frieze for the Harlem River Housing Project commissioned by the Works Progress Administration, and a monument to the journalist Arthur Brisbane commissioned by the city of New York and installed on the wall of Central Park in 1939. Barthé received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1940 and 1941, and in 1946 he was unanimously elected to membership in the National Sculpture Society. In 1942, Barthé and Jacob Lawrence became the first Black artists to enter the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the museum acquiring Barthé’s The Boxer (1942); in 1948, The Art Institute of Chicago also acquired a cast of The Boxer.

The fast pace of city life gradually took a toll on Barthé’s health, and in 1948 he bought a house in the parish of Saint Ann in Jamaica. The purchase was made possible by major commissions by President Estime of Haiti, who selected him to sculpt life-sized monuments to Toussaint L’Ouverture and General Jean Jacques Dessalines, which he completed in 1950 and 1952, respectively. He also accepted commissions from the Haitian government to design new coins in 1949 and 1953. Life in Jamaica afforded Barthé the peace he needed to recuperate his health; he continued to create new work which he sold to fellow expatriates. A local whom he hired for domestic help named Lucian Levers provided the inspiration for several of the male nudes Barthé sculpted in the early 1960s. In 1969, civil unrest in Jamaica prompted Barthé’s sudden move to Europe. He lived in Geneva, Switzerland, and Ibiza, Spain for a few months before making Florence, Italy, his new home for the next five years. His artistic production slowed during his time in Europe, and he enjoyed frequenting the city’s many cultural attractions. 

[1] Richmond Barthé quoted in Samella Lewis, Barthé. His life in Art, (Los Angeles, CA: Unity Works 2009),13.


Barthé returned to the United States in 1976, settling into an apartment in Pasadena, California, with the help of artist Charles White. By this time his creative interests had shifted to writing fables and memoirs, but he continued to make a modest amount of money off his sculpture.

In 1978, the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles published an article on Barthé that led to a meeting with the actor James Garner, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. Garner also became an important patron of Barthé in the last decade of his life, providing him with a much-needed stipend for living expenses, funding for the casting of several new editions of his sculptures, and establishing the Richmond Barthé Trust to collect, organize, and document his work. In 1982, the city of Pasadena honored his artistic achievements by renaming the street on which he lived Barthé Drive. Another highlight of his final years came in 1987, when the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles honored him with a gala. Barthé passed away in Pasadena in 1989.

In 1992, Landau Travelling Exhibitions organized Richmond Barthé and Richard Hunt: Two Sculptors, Two Eras, curated by art historian, artist, and Barthé scholar Samella Lewis. The exhibition explored Barthé’s indelible influence on the generations of Black American sculptors that came after him and traveled to eleven venues across the country from 1992–1996 including the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, IL; Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; and the New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA. In 2008, art historian, artist, and curator Margaret Rose Vendryes published a canonical biography of the artist, Barthé: A Life in Sculpture (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi). Dr. Lewis organized another landmark exhibition, Richmond Barthé: Harlem Renaissance Sculptor, at the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles in 2009; the exhibition traveled to several cities around the country through 2012 and was accompanied by Lewis’s oversized monograph Barthé: His Life In Art (Los Angeles: Unity Works). In 2010, the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi presented the solo exhibition Richmond Barthé: The Seeker. His work has also been included in numerous important group exhibitions, most recently 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).

In 2022, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia mounted Isaac Julien: Once Again  . . .(Statues Never Die), an exhibition comprising an immersive, five-screen installation by artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien (b.1960) commissioned by the Foundation. Structured around a conversation between Albert C. Barnes, an important collector of African sculpture, and Harlem Renaissance philosopher Alain Locke, the film prominently features Barthé’s sculpture and explores the theme of Black queer desire through the lens of Locke and Barthé’s relationship; several of Barthé sculptures were installed throughout the exhibition space. Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die) and a selection of Barthé’s works were also included in Julien’s career retrospective Isaac Julien: What Freedom is to me, mounted by the Tate Britain, London, UK, in 2023, which traveled to the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany, and the Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, The Netherlands through 2024.

Richmond Barthé is represented in museum collections including Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL; Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin, TX; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, Atlanta, GA; Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME; de Young, Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA; Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC; Hampton University Museum, Hampton, VA; Howard University Art Gallery, Washington, DC; The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, SC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, MI; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Newark Museum of Art, Newark, NJ; North Carolina Central University Art Museum, Durham, NC; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, RI; San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA; SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, New York, NY; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; St. Ann’s Parish Public Library, St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, West Indies; Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, AL; University of Southern Mississippi Art Museum, Hattiesburg, MS; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, VA; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; and Xavier University Archives and Special Collections, New Orleans, LA.


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