James Richmond Barthé (Jan 28, 1901 – Mar 5, 1989), also known as Richmond Barthé was an African-American sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Barthé is best known for his portrayal of black subjects. The focus of his artistic work was portraying the diversity and spirituality of man. Barthé once said: “All my life I have been interested in trying to capture the spiritual quality I see and feel in people, and I feel that the human figure as God made it, is the best means of expressing this spirit in man.”
Barthé’s first public commission came from the New York City’s Federal Art Project and for the 80-foot bas-relief in cast stone, (1939), for the embellishment of the Harlem River Houses complex. His other most notable public works include a monumental bronze of Toussaint L’Ouverture, (1950), in front of the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; 40-foot bronze statue Jean Jacques Dessalines, (1952), at Champs-du-Mars, Port-au-Prince, Haiti; a cast stone relief of American Eagle, (1940), on the façade of Social Security Board Building in Washington, DC; a marble Arthur Brisbane Memorial in New York City, (1939), a later enlarged version of a sculpture of Rose McClendon (1932), for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, (c.1935); and the design of several Haitian coins, still in use today.
Barthe’s Haitian works came in a time after his 1947 move to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and were among his largest and most famous works. The huge 40-foot equestrian bronze of Jean Jacques Dessalines, (1952), was one of four heroic sculptures commissioned in 1948 by Haitian political leaders to mark independence celebrations. The Dessalines monument was part of a larger 1954 restoration of the Champs-du-Mars park in Port-au-Prince, Barthe’s 40-foot-high Toussaint L’Ouverture statue (1950), and stone monument was positioned nearer the National Palace, and was unveiled in 1950 with two other commissioned heroic sculptures (in the capital and in the north of the county) by Cuban sculptor Blanco Ramos. At the time, one African-American newspaper called the collection “the Greatest Negro Monuments on earth.” L’Overture was in fact a subject Barthe returned to several times, having created a bust (1926) and painted portrait (1929) of the figure early in his career.
Barthé’s first debut as a professional sculptor was at The Negro in Art Week exhibition in Chicago in 1927. His first solo exhibition was held at the Women’s City Club in Chicago in 1930, exhibiting a selection of thirty-eight works of sculpture, painting, and works on paper. In 1932, the Whitney Museum of American Art decided to purchase a bronze copy of the Blackberry Woman (1930) after exhibiting it at the opening exhibition of Contemporary American Artists in 1932. Barthé’s work was paired with drawings by Delacroix, Matisse, Laurencin, Daumier, and Forain at the Caz-Delbo Gallery in 1933 in New York City. Barthé’s last retrospective, Richmond Barthé: His Life in Art, consisted of over 30 sculptures and photographs. The exhibition was organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions of Los Angeles, CA, in 2009. The exhibition venues included the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the California African American Museum, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, and the NCCU Art Museum.
The Whitney Museum of American Art purchased Barthé’s bronze copy of the Blackberry Woman (1930) in 1932, after the inaugural exhibition Whitney Annual in 1932. The African Dancer (1933) was also purchased after being displayed in Whitney Annual in 1933, as well as the Comedian in 1935. The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased The Boxer (1942) after Artists For Victory exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1942. Barthé’s other pieces are in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Art Institute of Chicago, Fallingwater, and others.