National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Richmond Barthé: American\African American
Born Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Richmond Barthé holds the distinction of being the only African American artist of his generation to support himself solely through the production of his art, following a trajectory characterized by hard work and unmistakable artistic talent. Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Barthé was unable to access a formal arts education until he left for the Art Institute in Chicago in 1924. While there, he focused on painting until his first attempts at sculpture, two heads modeled from clay, brought him critical attention. They were so impressive that they were chosen for Chicago’s groundbreaking 1927 “Negro in Art Week” exhibition.
Emelie Danielson Nicholson, likely working as a commercial art student in Chicago at the time, photographed Barthé with one of his first commissioned works. Barthé’s bust of Toussaint L’Ouverture represents the beginning of a prolific career sculpting figurative, subtly emotive busts and monuments ranging in subject matter from black day laborers to Broadway celebrities and politicians.