Painting by famed artist Richmond Barthé on display at Belton House as part of Black History Month
A painting by a famous African-American artist was displayed at Belton House to celebrate Black History Month.
The painting by Richmond Barthé (1901-89) can be seen at the National Trust property for the first time after research was able to confirm the identity of the artist and model.
Man Seated in a Landscape is a 1950s portrait painted in Jamaica, where Barthé lived from 1949 to 1969. He was the only professional African-American artist living there at the time.
The sitter has been identified as Lucian Levers, who was employed as Barthé’s assistant at Iolaus, the artist’s home and studio in St Ann Parish, Jamaica. Levers became a favorite model, appearing in several paintings and sculptures produced there.
Alice Rylance-Watson, Deputy National Curator at the National Trust, established the artist after noticing that the painting had been mistakenly attributed after her signature had been incorrectly transcribed.
She identified the pattern in part through research by the late Margaret Rose Vendryes (1955-2022), art historian who wrote the first major work on Barthé.
With Vendryes’ work, Alice was able to compare Seated Man in a Landscape with a photograph by Levers, a sculpted bust, and another portrait, to confirm the identity of the sitter. The painting has since been worked on by specialist paint restorers to prepare it for public display.
Alice said of the find: “It was fantastic to be able to update the historical record to officially recognize both the creator of this portrait and its sitter for the first time.
“Barthé’s legacy extends beyond his own life, and his work has had a significant impact on black artists today, which is why the National Trust has chosen to display the painting in as part of our Black History Month celebrations.
“We are delighted to be able to identify Lucian Levers as the sitter as it can be difficult to name black people who appear in historical portraits, primarily due to a lack of documentation.
“Barthé is best known as a sculptor, so it’s great to present this rare oil, painted at an important pivotal moment in the artist’s career.”
Seated Man in a Landscape is part of the Belton House collection, held by the National Trust. It is unclear exactly how the painting arrived at Belton, but it is likely that it was acquired by Perry Cust, 6th Baron Brownlow, who built a vacation home in northern Jamaica.
For opening hours and more information, visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/belton-house
The National Trust has invited modern artists from the black community to share how they have been inspired by Barthé’s work. The EH Jazz Trio, Eugene Ankomah and Quilla Constance have all reflected on his work and its influence on their own artistic practice in a video, produced by Media Worx and narrated by BBC Radio 2’s Trevor Nelson. The video will be screened at Belton House and shared on the National Trust website from 13 October.
Artist Eugene Ankomah, who was inspired by Barthé’s work and participated in the video, said: “For me, it’s incredibly important that projects like this highlight the stories of people from underrepresented groups. Simply because it is a way of respecting and acknowledging the valuable experiences of underrepresented people.
“It also brings into the mix of society, a sense of something else beyond what can be paraded before us in the day-to-day. It helps expand the story of today and the history of any community or nation. I was very interested from the start with the concept of video as a means of doing this.
“I found it to be a fresh and honest approach to the subject of Bathé and his work. The concept had a psychological energy that I was eager to bring to fruition.”
Richmond Barthé was born in Bay St Louis, Mississippi in 1901. His artistic talent was recognized by members of the local community, who raised enough money to fund his tuition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of only two arts institutions accepting black students at the time.
Barthé studied painting before taking formal training in sculpture. He was critically acclaimed as a sculptor in New York and internationally, winning several high profile commissions. However, despite his success, Barthé experienced feelings of alienation during his life and periods of poor mental and physical health.
He left New York for Jamaica in 1949, with the aim of regaining his health and creativity. Barthé struggles to make a commercial success of his painting. He often gave away or destroyed his oils. Seated Man in a Landscape is thus a rare survival of a lesser known and somewhat difficult aspect of Barthé’s work.
Barthé was a figurative artist who typically, though not exclusively, depicted the black male body, focusing on both the sensual and spiritual dimensions of human experience. Her personal and professional life is complex and notions of identity profoundly influence her work.
After a stay in Europe, Barthé moved to Pasadena, California, where he died in 1989.