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Rico LeBrun

 (1900 - 1964)
Rico LeBrun was active/lived in California, New York / Italy.  Rico LeBrun is known for modernist figure-genre, non objective, sculpture, teaching.

Rico LeBrun

    leh-BREH(N)    click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Rico LeBrun was born on December 10, 1900 in Naples, Italy. He immigrated to the United States in his twenties. He taught himself English and writing became for him another form of drawing, a way to exercise the muscles of vision and perception. He came to Southern California in the late 1930s following a decade as a commercial artist in New York City. In the late 1940s LeBrun's career was in full bloom.

In 1952 and 1953 he went to Mexico where he experienced a change in his work, namely collage. In 1958 he worked with Josef Albers at Yale University as a visiting artist, an unhappy stint because of the really great contrast in their approaches. Following that, he visited Naples for the first time since the 1930s. He found the city, and his family, still in ruins from the war. The episode left him very depressed and it took him much time to navigate his way out of it.

LeBrun was diagnosed with cancer in 1961. His son, David and a student, Jim Renner have collaborated on a book trying to explain this complicated man. Because he dwelt on the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, it was assumed that he was a dark brooding figure. Instead he is better described as intensely driven, passionate and affectionate. He died on May 10, 1962 in Malibu, California.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Leah Ollman in LA Times Calendar section, Sunday, April 22, 2001
Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists, Paul Cummings

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Naples, Italy on Dec. 10, 1900. "Rico" Lebrun studied at the Academy of Arts and Nat'l Technical Institute before moving to NYC in 1924. While working in advertising art, he taught at the ASL. During the 1930s he worked for the WPA as a muralist and did cartoons in the NYC Post Office Annex. After settling in Santa Barbara in 1938, he commuted to Los Angeles to teach at Chouinard School of Art. In 1946 he relocated to Los Angeles to teach at Jepson Art Institute and work as an animator for Walt Disney. He also taught in Mexico at Escuela de Bellas Artes and San Miguel de Allende, and at the American Academy in Rome. Lebrun contributed greatly to California art both as an educator and as an advocate of modern art. With subjects including the Crucifixion and Nazi concentration camps, his bold, modern depictions of human figures show the influence of Goya and Picasso. He died of cancer in Malibu, CA on May 9, 1964. Exh: MOMA, 1933; Chouinard Gallery (LA), 1938; GGIE, 1939; SFMA, 1940; Montecito Country Club, 1940; Santa Barbara Art League, 1939-41; Pasadena Art Inst., 1944; LACMA, 1945, 1948, 1950; AIC, 1947 (1st prize), 1954; Pomona College, 1948; LA County Fair, 1949; CPLH, 1949, 1952. In: MM; LACMA; Boston Museum; Santa Barbara Museum; MOMA; De Young Museum; Pomona College (mural, Genesis).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who's Who in American Art 1938-59; Los Angeles Times, 5-10-1964 (obituary).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Sullivan Goss - An American Gallery (Artists I-Q)
Rico (Frederico) Lebrun was born in Naples, Italy on December 10, 1900. At the age of 17, he graduated from secondary school and began a two-year service in the Italian Army during World War I. Upon his discharge, he attended the Industrial Institute in Naples and began his first formal art classes at the Naples Academy of Beaux Arts. Through his work as a designer for a stained-glass factory in Naples, Lebrun was offered a contract to work at the Springfield, Illinois branch of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.

After his contract ended, he moved to New York City, where he found work as a commercial artist drawing advertisements and fashion plates for such magazines as Vogue, Fortune and The New Yorker. Earning a moderate salary, Lebrun was able to take an extended trip to Italy where his passion for fine art was rekindled. During his six-year stay abroad, he studied the fresco* paintings of Italian Renaissance* artist Luca Signorelli (1441-1523). In 1936, he returned to New York City, where he took a teaching position at the New York Art Students' League*.

This year marked a turning point in Lebrun's career as he decided to stop working as a commercial artist and return to the fine art of mural painting. Soon after this decision, Harvard University commissioned Lebrun and his fellow artist friend Lewis Rubenstein (b. 1908) to complete a mural on the top level of the Fogg Art Museum. Though the mural was removed shortly after its completion, the designs earned Lebrun a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship* in 1936, which he won again in 1937.

In the following year, Lebrun moved to Southern California. Once in Santa Barbara, he found a great deal of support from the local art community. While spending time with artist friend Channing Peake (1910-1989), Lebrun gained the friendship of Donald Bear, who was the new Director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA). Bear was responsible for organizing Lebrun's first solo-exhibition, which was later followed by a successful string of national exhibitions.

Between 1938 and 1944, Lebrun taught in Los Angeles at the Chouinard Art Institute* and the Walt Disney Studios. During this time, Lebrun became a leading modernist* figure in the Los Angeles area, even gaining the strong support of conservative Los Angeles Times critic Henry J. Seldis. Moreover, Lebrun was offered a prominent position as artist-in-residence at SBMA.

In 1947, he began to devote his art to themes dealing with religious experience and human suffering. For the next three years, Lebrun worked on the Crucifixion series, preparing well over two-hundred drawings and paintings. The series culminated in a large exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that later traveled to the De Young Museum in San Francisco, while the Crucifixion triptych ultimately found a home at Syracuse University in New York. After an extended trip to Mexico, Lebrun returned to Los Angeles, where he worked on a series based on the horrendous atrocities that took place at the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. Lebrun later commented that this series was a "form of remembrance and prayer… changing what is disfigured into what is transfigured."1

In 1958, he spent a year as a visiting lecturer at Yale University before returning to Italy to become artist-in-residence at the American Academy* in Rome. During his time abroad, Lebrun outlined his ideas for a commissioned mural at Pomona College. In little less than half a year, he completed the enormous Genesis mural, which still stands on the college campus today. Following the project's completion, Lebrun took on a position as faculty member at the University of California at Santa Barbara and for the first time devoted his career to sculpting. In the midst of this new endeavor, the sixty-three year old artist died quite suddenly at his Malibu home, after being diagnosed with cancer the previous year. His wife Constance and their son, David, survived him.

1. Rico Lebrun quoted in Oppler, Ellen C., Rico Lebrun: Transformations/Transfiguration- '…changing what is disfigured into what is transfigured, Syracuse University, 13 November 1983- 18 January 1984, p.10.


1900 Born in Naples, Italy
1914 Graduates from the National Technical School, Naples, Italy
1917 Graduates from the National Technical Institute, Naples, Italy
1917-19 Serves in the Italian Army during WWI
1919-1921 Attends Industrial Institute in Naples and takes life drawing classes at Naples Academy of Beaux Arts.
1922-24 Works as a designer in a stained-glass window factory
1924 Moves to Springfield, IL to work for Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.
1925 Moves to New York City to work as a commercial artist and fashion illustrator
1930-36 Visits Italy and studies frescos of Signorelli. Returns to New York and completes a mural for the New York City Post Office.
1936 Teaches drawing, mural design, and fresco painting at New York Art Student's League. Stops doing commercial work.
1938-39 Lives in Southern California and teaches at Chouinard Art Institute
1940 First solo-show is arranged by Donald Bear in Santa Barbara, CA
1940-42 Works in Los Angeles
1942-43 Teaches at Newcomb College for Women, Tulane University, New Orleans
1944 First solo-show in New York takes place at the Julien Levy Gallery
1945 Teaches at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
1945-46 Artist-in-Residence at Santa Barbara Museum of Art
1947 Begins Crucifixion series
1948 Marries Constance Johnson
1952-54 Lives and teaches in San Miguel de Allendo, Mexico
1954-58 Works in Los Angeles. Paints Buchenwald and Dachau series
1958-59 Teaches at Yale University
1959-60 Returns to Italy to teach at the American Academy in Rome. Completes Genesis mural at Pomona College. Elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters
1960-62 Teaches at the University of California at Santa Barbara
1963 Dies at his Malibu home after being diagnoses with cancer the previous year

Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, OH
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Denver Art Musuem, CO
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA
Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Mills College Art Gallery, Oakland, CA
M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, NY
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, NY
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PA
Phillips Academy, Addison Gallery, Andover, MA
Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
San Diego Museum of Art, CA
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
St. Paul Gallery and School of Art, St. Paul, MN
University of Hawaii, Honolulu
University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, IL
University of Nebraska Art Galleries, Lincoln, NE
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
W.R. Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City, MO

Pomona College
New York City Post Office
Joe and Emily Lowe Art Center, Syracuse University

1940 Faulker Memorial Art Wing, Public Library, Santa Barbara, CA
1940 San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, CA
1940 San Francisco Museum of Art, CA
1942, 1947, 1951, 1952, 1956 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA
1942, 1947, 1951, 1956 M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco
1942 San Francisco Museum of Art
1944 Julien Levy Gallery, NY
1945, 1950 Philadelphia Art Alliance, PA
1945 Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, CO
1947, 1949 Jepson Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA
1948-50 American Federation of Arts, Washington, D.C.
1948 Modern Institute of Art, Beverly Hills, CA
1949 William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Kansas City, MO
1950, 1951 Jacques Seligmann Gallery, NY
1950 Los Angeles County Museum of Art
1950 Salt Lake Art Barn, UT
1951, 1955 Frank Perls Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA
1951 Museum of Modern Art, NY
1951 Tacoma Art League, WA
1954 Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, CO
1955 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1956 Pomona College Art Gallery, Claremont, CA
1956 Whyte Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1958 De Cordova and Dana Museum and Park, Lincoln, MA
1958 The Art Gallery of Toronto, Canada
1958 University of Utah, Salt Lake City
1958 Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
1959 Occidental College, Eagle Rock, CA
1959 Boston University Art Gallery, Boston, MA
1959, 1962 Boris Mirski Gallery, Boston, MA
1960 University of California at Santa Barbara, CA
1960 Esther Bear Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
1961 Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ
1961 Municipal Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1961 University of Southern California, Fisher Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1962 Obelisk Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1962 Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA
1962 Joe and Emily Lowe Art Center, Syracuse University, New York, NY
1962 Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY
1962 Nordness Gallery, Inc., New York, NY
1962 Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
1962 Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
1963 Philadephia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA
1963 Silvan Simone Gallery, Los Angeles, CA

1960 Member, National Institute of Arts and Letters

1936-37 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship
1937-38 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship
1947 Norman Wait Harris Silver Medal; First Prize, Fifty-eighth Annual Exhibition, Chicago Art Institute
1948 First Prize, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
1949 Purchase Prize, University of Illinois
1950 Second Prize, Metropolitan Museum of Art
1952 Award of Merit, The American Academy of Arts and Letters
1953 Temple Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
1962 Lippincott Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
1962 Purchase Award, Pasadena Art Museum
1963 Jospeh Pennell Award, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
1962-63 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship

VIII. Bibliography

    1.    1. Lebrun, Rico, Rico Lebrun, New York: The Art Students League of New York, 1936.
    2.    2. Nordness, Lee, Rico Lebrun: Sculpture, New York: Lee Nordness Galleries, 1963.
    3.    3. Oppler, Ellen C., Rico Lebrun: Transformations/Transfiguration- '…changing what is disfigured into what is transfigured, Syracyse, NY: Syracuse University, 13 November 1983- 18 January, 1984.
    4.    4. Rico Lebrun: Paintings, Boston, MA: Boston University Art Gallery, April 25- May 23, 1959.
    5.    5. Schumach, Murray, "Painter Lebrun to Exhibit Sculpture on Coast: California Gallery Will Open Show on Wednesday," The New York Times Western Edition, January 13, 1964, p. L6.
    6.    6. Seldis, Henry J., Rico Lebrun (1900-1964), Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5 December 1967- 14 January 1968.
    7.    7. Seldis, Henry J., Rico Lebrun, Newport Beach, CA: Fine Arts Patrons of Newport Harbor, 1964.
    8.    8. Seldis, Henry J., Rico Lebrun: Lithographs, Drawings and Paintings, Santa Maria, CA: Allan Hancock College Art Gallery, 12 September- 13 October, 1977.
    9.    9. Seldis, Henry J., "Rico Lebrun Emerges as Stirring Sculptor," Los Angeles Times, Sun., January 19, 1964.
    10.    10. Staff Writer, "Muralist Rico Lebrun Dies at Malibu Home," Los Angeles Times, Sun., May 10, 1964, sec. B.
    11.    11. Valentiner, W.R., Rico Lebrun: Paintings and Drawings of the Crucifixion, Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles County Museum, Exposition Park, December 1-28, 1950.

* For references for these terms and others, see AskART Glossary

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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About  Rico LeBrun

Born:  1900 - Naples, Italy
Died:   1964 - Malibu, California
Known for:  modernist figure-genre, non objective, sculpture, teaching