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Rico Lebrun

(1900—1964)


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(1900–1964).

Painter, draftsman, printmaker, and sculptor. Lebrun's expressionistic humanism treated themes of suffering, death, inhumanity, and redemption. Among few artists to dwell productively on the horrors of World War II, he also drew on the art of such past masters such as Grünewald and Goya to create modern variations of their emotionally searing images. Born in Naples, Federico Lebrun trained as an artist there and in Florence. After working as a designer in a stained glass factory for two years, he first came to the United States in 1924, when the business opened a branch in Springfield, Illinois. The following year he moved to New York, where he became a successful advertising artist, but during frequent visits continued to steep his sensibility in the historical art of his homeland. In 1938 he moved permanently to the Los Angeles area, where he taught and worked as a Disney animator. He died at his home in Malibu. Lebrun's characteristic approach appeared in the late 1930s in paintings of socially marginal types, such as beggars, cripples, and performers. After World War II he increasingly addressed ponderous and tragic subjects. Lebrun's Crucifixion series, begun in 1947 and comprising more than two hundred paintings and drawings, culminated in a huge triptych (Syracuse [New York] University, 1950). In the mid-1950s, concentration camp photographs served as the impetus for a series on Buchenwald and Dachau, in which piles of corpses bear timeless witness to the stupidity of war and the transience of life. Yet, even here formal coherence and elegantly conceived drawing leaven despair with intimations of spiritual transcendence. Whatever his subject, Lebrun brought to it masterful resources: first-rate draftsmanship, bold and glowing color, and internalized command of Renaissance, Baroque, and modern traditions. As a result he could range with seeming effortlessness from realistic detail to abstract form, fluidly addressing his central subject, the human body, and creating mood and atmosphere appropriate to particular subjects. Lebrun extended his practice to a serious engagement with sculpture in the last two years of his life.

Subjects: Art.


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