Rico Lebrun Biography

Rico Lebrun




Rico Lebrun, painter, muralist, sculptor, printmaker, and commercial artist, was born in Naples, Italy on December 10, 1900. He studied at the Accademia di Bella Arti di Napoli in Naples between 1918 and 1922 and worked as a designer at a stained-glass factory in Italy. It was also during this time that he studied with the fresco painters Albino and Cambi in Naples. Lebrun emigrated to the United States in 1924 and eventually settled in New York where he quickly became a successful commercial artist designing for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New Yorker magazines.

Lebrun returned to Italy in 1927 and 1928, and his 1930 visit extended through 1932 allowing that he could study fresco painting with Galimberti in Rome. During this time he traveled to Orvieto where he studied the murals of Signorelli. Lebrun returned to New York in January of 1933 and he worked with Louis Rubinstein on designs and the execution of a mural at the Fogg Museum. His cartoons for the Story of the Mines mural won him the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1936-37 and the award was extended for a second year. During this time he taught mural composition and fresco painting at the Art Students League of New York and began working in the mural division of the WPA.

Gridley Barrows and Channing Peake, both California artists, assisted Lebrun on the WPA project and were instrumental in persuading him to move west. Initially moving to Santa Barbara, California in 1938, Lebrun accepted a teaching position at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1940 he taught animation at Walt Disney Studios, and, the following year, Donald Bear, director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art organized Lebrun's first exhibition at the Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery in Santa Barbara. Lebrun was represented in the Museum of Modern Art’s important exhibition of American painters, “Americans 1942,” and, soon after, his first solo show in New York opened at the Julien Levy Gallery.

Continuing to live and work in Southern California, Lebrun was appointed artist-in-residence at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In 1947, he was hired as an instructor at the newly formed Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles, and, in 1951, he was appointed director. In 1952, he began an eighteen month stay in Mexico where he taught at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende. Later in the decade, he was Visiting Professor at Yale University and artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome.

Rico Lebrun was elected a full academician in the National Academy of Design in 1963 and his other honors included the Temple Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Award of Merit of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work is represented in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; the Smithsonian Museum of American Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Worcester Art Museum; and Yale University Art Gallery.

Rico Lebrun died on May 9, 1964, in Malibu, California.