Victor Barthe was an artist, antique dealer and theatrical designer. In the 1881 census he gave his birthplace as France, but it is also recorded as Russia. He married an English girl, Charlotte (b. ca 1839) from Marsden, Yorkshire, and they had a daughter, Clementine (b. ca 1869).
Barthe fought as a Zouave in Algeria and with the Confederate Army in the American Civil War.
After his marriage he settled at 4 Limerston Street in London and made a living making period costume for the theatre and for artists' models. He built a studio in the back garden and in 1872 began to hold evening life classes.
Barthe's life class had 300 students in its first four years. They included George Moore, Oliver Brown, JW and the two Greaves brothers, although the latter three did not attend regularly. James E. Christie, another student, recalled: 'It was amusing to watch the movements of the trio when they came into the studio (always late). The curtain that hung in front of the door would suddenly be pulled back by one of the Greaves, and a trim, prim little man, with a bright, merry eye, would step in with 'Good evening,' cheerfully said to the whole studio... while taking off his gloves, he would hand his hat to the other brother, who hung it up carefully as if it were a sacred thing... then in the most careful way he arranged his materials, and sat down... There was a sort of tacit understanding that his and their studies should not be subjected to the rude gaze of the general... The trio packed up, and left before the others always.' Among the models at the life class was Mary Lewis, a cockney girl, who was apparently responsible 'for bringing on one of Whistler's increasingly frequent displays of pique'.
According to Pocock, Barthe sold JW some tapestry, but was not paid and so he went to collect his money at Lindsey Row: 'A cab was outside the door, the maid said that Whistler was not in but, hearing his voice upstairs, Barthe pushed past. 'Upstairs, I find him, before a little picture, painting, and behind him ze bruzzers Greaves holding candle. And Vistlaire he say, 'You ze very man I vant; hold a candle!' And I hold a candle. And Vistlaire he paint and he paint and zen he take ze picture and he go downstair and he get in ze cab and he drive off and ve hold ze candle and I see him no more. Mon dieu, il est terrible, ce Vistlaire!''
Barthe provided costumes for for the Court Theatre in 1880 and for such plays as Shakespeares' Merchant of Venice at Oxford in 1885. His stock of historical costumes, old boots etc, was sold by Boreham and Co. when he retired in 1894.
The Times, London, 12 October 1880, p. 8, 14 May 1885, p. 8, 27 January 1894, p. 15; UK census 1881, from http://www.familysearch.org (accessed 2004); Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, p. 108; Pocock, Tom, Chelsea Reach: The Brutal Friendship of Whistler and Walter Greaves, London, 1970.