Richmond Barthé’s The Negro Looks Ahead Acquired by the Amon Carter Museum

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Release date: 
January 31, 2007

FORT WORTH, Texas--- Amon Carter Museum Director Ron Tyler announced today the acquisition of a bronze sculpture entitled The Negro Looks Ahead by Richmond Barthé (1901--1989), who was among the Harlem Renaissance era’s most successful sculptors. Barthé achieved renown for his figurative sculptures as well as for his portrait busts of celebrated African-Americans and theatrical personalities. The Negro Looks Ahead is a sensitive portrayal of a young African-American male that Barthé modeled in 1940. It is currently on view on the first floor of the museum.

“With the purchase of The Negro Looks Ahead, we can present a signature work of the famed Harlem Renaissance and add significantly to the museum’s holdings of American bronzes,” Tyler said.

The Negro Looks Ahead has been widely reproduced and is therefore among Barthé’s most familiar works, but rarely does a model come on the market. Like many African-American artists who matured in the 1930s and 1940s, Barthé enlisted black subjects in order to generate racial pride. He remained a traditionalist, however, relying upon a carefully modeled academic style, rather than creating a modern aesthetic as many of his contemporaries did.

One of Barthé’s most beautifully executed works, The Negro Looks Ahead shows a naturalistic head emerging from a block. By retaining the surrounding block, Barthé references the work of Michelangelo and Auguste Rodin. The figure’s head is deeply modeled, allowing the interplay of light and shadow to imbue the sculpture with emotion and personality. It seems to capture a fleeting moment---a young man in mid-thought---that expresses the aspirations of an entire community rather than a particular individual. In a 1979 letter to the staff of the New York Public Library, Barthé recalled that his inspiration for the work was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “I believed that the Negro advanced more under him than any other President since Lincoln,” he wrote in the letter, “so I did this piece of the Negro emerging out of his rough background with hope in the future.”

“The addition of this sculpture to the Carter’s collection signifies the museum’s commitment to exhibiting exemplary work by African-American artists, including Jacob Lawrence, Charles White and William H. Johnson,” said Rebecca Lawton, curator of painting and sculpture. “A masterful bronze such as this transcends racial representation, though, to speak to the universal, and it offers our audiences an interesting corollary to the Carter’s John Quincy Adams Ward’s The Freedman (1863), which is the first representation of an African-American figure cast in bronze.”

About Richmond Barthé

Richmond Barthéwas born in 1901 in Bay St. Louis, Miss., to Richmond Barthéand Clementine Raboteau. His father died when he was just a month old, so he was raised solely by his mother, who gave him his favorite “toy” as a child: a pencil and paper. He showed great talent throughout his childhood. After winning an art fair contest in New Orleans when he was 18, the art critic at the New Orleans Times Picayune lobbied to get Barthé into an art school there, but he was denied admittance because of his race.

In 1924, Barthé moved to Chicago to live with an aunt and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago until 1928, switching his focus during his senior year from painting to sculpture. Here he began calling himself Barthé rather than Richmond because he believed his Christian name was too formal, “like an Englishman.” A Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, awarded first in 1929 and renewed the following year, enabled him to move to and then settle in New York City, where he quickly earned recognition as a talented sculptor. The philosopher/art critic Alain Locke, who was the seminal force behind the New Negro movement of the 1920s, promoted Barthé’s work, as did the Harmon Foundation, which included several of the artists’s pieces in a series of juried traveling exhibitions in 1929, 1931 and 1933. A reviewer of Barthé’s first solo exhibition held in New York at the Caz-Delbo Gallery in 1931, proclaimed him “a sculptor of unmistakable promise.” His career flourished, and by the time of his unanimous election to the Sculptors Guild in 1938, he had already exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Carnegie Institute. By the mid-1940s Barthé had become the most publicized black artist in America, with the peer recognition to match: in 1945, Malvina Hoffman sponsored his application to the National Sculpture Society, and in 1949 he was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters. Yet, because he lacked steady financial support, he was hardly able to support himself and could rarely afford to cast his work in bronze. In 1951, Barthé moved to Jamaica, where he remained until 1969. He then traveled to Europe, settling in Florence. Impoverished, he moved to Pasadena, Calif., in 1977 and lived there until the end of his life.