Rico Lebrun Biography

Rico Lebrun




Rico Lebrun was born in Naples, Italy on december 10, 1900. As a youth he served in the Italian army during  the last year of World War I (1917-1918) after which he spent two years in the Italian navy and studied at the Industrial Institute and the Naples Academy  of Fine Arts. He worked with fresco painters Cambi and Albino in Naples. As a designer for a stained glass factory in Naples, Lebrun was sent to the factory's new branch in Springfield, Illinois, in 1924 as  foreman and instructor in stained-glass technique.

By 1925, Lebrun immigrated to the U.S. moving to New York where he became a highly successful commerical artist for such publications as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and the New Yorker. During this time, he married and together with his wife made several trips to Italy, where he studied fresco painting with Galimberti in Rome, and researched the Signorelli frescoes in Orvieto, Italy. Returning to New York in 1933, Lebrun  worked with Louis Rubenstein on a mural at Harvard University's Fogg Museum (the  mural was later walled over). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935/36 for a  proposed mural project "Story of the Mines" (which was never executed) and worked on a WPA mural "River Flood" at the Pennsylvania Station Post Office Annex in New York.

Two California artists Gridley Barrows (who  later became an architect) and Santa Barbara painter Channing Peake assisted Lebrun on the WPA project and were instrumental in persuading Lebrun to leave New York and go west to California, which he did after conflict with the WPA caused the abandonment of the mural and the breakup of his marriage.

Initially moving to Santa Barbara, California in 1938, Lebrun soon accepted a teaching job at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles where met  and married Elaine Leonard in 1940, and taught animation at Walt Disney Studios. Donald Bear, director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art organized the first  exhibition of Lebrun's work at the Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery in Santa Barbara.

During the 1940s Lebrun's work  was  shown in New York at  the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art,  the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which  purchased his painting "The Bull Ring") and the Julian Levy Gallery gave Lebrun his first one man show. During this period of escalating artistic recognition, Lebrun suffered a personal loss as his wife Elaine died. Continuing to live and work in Southern California, Lebrun was appointed artist-in-residence at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and became an instructor, and later director, at the newly formed Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles.

In 1948, he married Constance Johnson, daughter  of Pasadena architect Reginald Johnson and later adopted her son, David. During the ensuing years, he produced his most powerful work - much of it based on his preoccupation with man's inhumanity to man - including the Crucifixion series, the Buchenwald  series and the Genesis mural at Pomona College in Claremont, CA. His work  was exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the De Young Museum in San Francisco, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Crucifixion Triptych is in the permanent collection of Syracuse University in New York.

Rico Lebrun received many honors and awards for his work, such as the Temple Gold Medal from  the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Award of Merit from the American Academy in  Arts and Letters and was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He found time to teach at the Instituto  Allende in Mexico (1953), as Visitng Professor at Yale University (1958), and as  artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome (1959). Rico Lebrun died on May 9, 1964 in Malibu, California.