Richmond Barthé (1901-1989)
Richmond Barthé (1901-1989)
Richmond Barthé (1901-1989)
3 More

Feral Benga

Feral Benga
inscribed 'BARTHÉ' (on the base)
bronze with brown patina
18 3⁄4 in. (47.6 cm.) high on a 3⁄4 in. (1.9 cm.) marble base
Modeled in 1935; cast circa 1960.
Ascension Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Private collection, acquired from the above, 1990s.
Sloans & Kenyon, 14 June 2020, lot 723, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
A. Locke, The Negro in Art: A Pictorial Record of the Negro Artist and of the Negro Theme in Art, Washington, D.C., 1940 (as Benga: Dance Figure).
C. Dover, American Negro Art, New York, 1960, illustrated.
Graham Gallery, The Figure in Sculpture: An Exhibition of Fine American and European, 19th and 20th Century Works in Bronze and Marble, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1989, pp. 5, 23, 65, another example illustrated (as Benga, Senegalese Dancer).
The Newark Museum, Against the Odds: African-American Artists and the Harmon Foundation, exhibition catalogue, Newark, New Jersey, 1990, p. 122, pl. 11, another example illustrated on the cover.
Hayward Gallery, Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, exhibition catalogue, London, 1997, pp. 71, 73, 178, another example illustrated.
G. Fabre, M. Feith, Temples for Tomorrow: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance, Bloomington, Indiana, 2001, p. 58.
M.R. Vendryes, Casting Feral Benga: A Biography of Richmond Barthé’s Signature Work, New York, 2003, pp. 1-11, other examples illustrated.
Studio Museum in Harlem, Challenge of the Modern: African American Artists 1925-1945, vol. 1, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2003, p. 20.
C.D. Wintz, P. Finkelman, Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance: A-J, Oxfordshire, England, 2004, p. 102.
E.B. Higginbotham, H. Gates, African American Lives, Oxford, England, 2004, p. 51.
L.P. Jackson, Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius, Athens, Georgia, 2007, p. 165.
M.R. Vendryes, Barthé: A Life in Sculpture, Jackson, Mississippi, 2008, pp. 66-72, 75, 185, another example illustrated.
K.N. Pinder, Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History, 2013, p. 318.
Post lot text
We would like to thank Margaret Rose Vendryes, PhD for her assistance with cataloging this lot.

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Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

An iconic image of American modernist sculpture, Richmond Barthé’s Feral Benga is the artist’s signature work, designed to celebrate both the African-American male body and African culture. The sculpture depicts the Senegalese cabaret dancer François Benga who adopted the stage name ‘Feral Benga’ once he arrived in Paris and appeared alongside stars such as Josephine Baker. Benga’s dress and performance made him a much-desired associate among Parisian Bohemian circles. With a pre-disposed interest in depicting the male nude, Richmond Barthé saw Benga perform in Paris in 1934, and shortly after created his first clay model of this piece. Recalling classical motifs blended with modern influences, Feral Benga is a tour de force of 20th-century American sculpture.

Born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Barthé first studied painting at the Chicago Art Institute School before moving to Harlem in 1929 at the height of the Harlem Renaissance movement. During this time he met the celebrated philosopher and cultural influencer Alain Locke, nicknamed the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance,” which would result in a lasting friendship and patronage. Within a year Barthé moved to a studio in Greenwich Village where he became involved in bohemian and homosexual circles. While the uptown African-American community had mixed opinions about his nude figures, Barthé’s downtown community fully embraced his aesthetic. Notable members of the artist’s friend and collector circles include prominent individuals from pre-World War II homosexual society such as Lyle Saxon, Winifred Ellerman, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., and Carl Van Vechten.

Margaret Rose Vendryes, PhD writes, “Without addressing Barthé's homosexuality, analyses of his work remains incomplete…Through the nude, Barthé revealed the basic humanness of black men while flaunting their sexual vitality.” Discussing this specific model, Vendryes continues, “Feral Benga is Barthé's signature piece…As one of several emerging African-American artists taking stock in the Negro art renaissance philosophy formed a decade earlier, Barthé celebrated all that was interesting and pleasing about blackness. As the country recovered from economic collapse, African-American artists began to commemorate their race in earnest, not only through depicting race-specific themes but, also taking more seriously their aesthetic connections to Africa. With dignity, Barthé effectively brought the black male body into the respectable fine art arena." (Casting Feral Benga: A Biography of Richmond Barthé’s Signature Work, New York, 2003, p. 3)

According to Vendryes, the present work was cast circa 1960 by the Modern Art Foundry in Long Island City, New York. Three earlier casts were produced by Cellini Bronze Works in New York in the 1930s: one of which was owned by the sitter, another is in the collection of the Muskegon Museum of Art, Michigan, and another is in the Newark Museum in New Jersey. The Modern Art Foundry produced subsequent examples, including the present work, which feature a shorter blade handle as opposed to the protruding handle of the three early casts. In 1986, Barthé produced a second edition of ten, which features this minor change as well as a slight adjustment to the base and a smoother surface finish.

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