Barthé was born in Bay St Louis, Mississippi, and left in 1924, headed for Chicago to study at the Art Institute. It wasn’t until Richmond Barthé’s senior year there that he was introduced to sculpting–in an effort to improve his skill at fleshing out three dimensional forms on canvas. A bust completed in his introductory class was included in the Art Institute’s juried exhibition, The Negro in Art, in 1927. This led to commissions for busts of Henry O. Tanner and Toussaint L’Ouverture. He had been awarded two Rosenwald Fellowships in 1929 and 1930, and so after graduation, he moved to New York, focused on establishing himself as a sculptor, set up a studio in Harlem, and continued studying at the Art Student’s League.
Both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased sculptures for their permanent collections. Throughout his career he created intimate portrait busts, large scale public commissions, and studies of the human figure. His work may be found in the public collections of Fisk University, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
In a review of his first solo exhibition, Edward Alden Jewell, art critic for the New York Times commented,
Richmond Barthé penetrates far beneath the surface, honestly seeking essentials, and never after finding these essentials, stooping to polish off an interpretation with superficial allure. There is no cleverness, no slickness in this sculpture. Some of the readings deserve, indeed, to be called profound.