Sculpting Black Queer Bodies and Desires: The Case of Richmond Barthé

  • James Smalls


Photographs taken of a young James Richmond Barthé (1901–1989) in the 1930s show a handsome and dapper man of relaxed confidence bordering on arrogance. No wonder he was admired by many who found him “thoughtful, generous, witty, and charming—a debonair gentleman.” Yet, he was equally derided by some who called him “a sissy, a fag, a kept man-child” (Vendryes 2008: 6). Of all the so-called New Negro artists, Barthé is perhaps the most enigmatic and complex. He was also the most successful. His life and work pose myriad questions and contradictions. His mixed-race lineage (he was a southern Creole born in Mississippi), his spirituality/religiosity (he was a devout Catholic), and his sexual orientation (he was a shy and closeted gay man), were central to his identity as an artist whose work primarily centered on the male nude in the act of the dance. His was an unusual theme for an African American artist to engage, for the nude, either male or female, appeared infrequently and was considered as “forbidden territory” for most African American artists even when justified through the guise of classicism.1


Great Migration African American Culture Physical Culture Racial Pride Double Consciousness 
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Copyright information

© Anne Crémieux, Xavier Lemoine, and Jean-Paul Rocchi 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Smalls

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