Though born in New York City, artist Conrad Albrizio did much of his work in Louisiana, and his frescos, murals, and paintings ornament Depression-era buildings throughout the region.
Though born in New York City, artist Conrad Albrizio did much of his work in Louisiana, and his frescoes, murals, and paintings ornament Depression-era buildings throughout the region. Known for his mural work, much of which was commissioned by various New Deal programs, Albrizio created murals in fresco (painting on moist plaster) and mosaic (inlaid colored stone or glass) as well as oil paintings on canvas. His work is often compared with that of artists associated with the American Scene or Regionalist school, popular during the 1930s. Like them, Albrizio frequently depicted iconic scenes from American history, agriculture, and industry, as well as traditional religious and social customs.
Early Life and Education
Born October 20 or 27, 1894, in New York City, Conrad Alfred Albrizio was the child of Italian immigrants. His father, Alfonso, was an architect, and his brothers, Humbert and Joseph, became sculptors. Conrad Albrizio studied architecture at the Beaux Arts Institute in New York City from 1914 to 1917. In 1920 an architectural job brought him to New Orleans, where he worked on the Hibernia Bank Building on Canal Street. While in New Orleans, Albrizio also studied painting and drawing, and met other artists and writers living in the French Quarter. His acquaintances included William Spratling, William Faulkner, and Sherwood Anderson. Albrizio and other like-minded individuals formed the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans, which influenced art and literature in New Orleans for decades.
In 1923, Albrizio returned to New York City, where he studied painting and life drawing at the Art Students League and worked part-time for the architectural firm of Boring and Tilton. During the 1920s, he also traveled to France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain, studying art, visiting museums, and doing historical research on art. To finance his travels, Albrizio worked as an architect in New York and painted part time. In 1929 he went to Rome and studied fresco. The following year, he returned to France to study the French method of fresco, as well as composition, etching, and lithography.
In 1931, Albrizio received his first major commission to paint fresco panels in the New State Capitol building under construction in Baton Rouge. Two panels, one in the Court of Appeals (now destroyed) and the other—originally located in the Supreme Court but later moved to the governor’s press room—represented Albrizio’s interpretation of biblical passages about justice. Four other panels in the governor’s reception room depicted scenes of rural Louisiana; they were destroyed in 1955.
By 1936, Albrizio had been hired as an instructor of art at Louisiana State University (LSU), where he taught until his resignation in 1954. While teaching at LSU, he began painting fresco murals in buildings constructed under the auspices of various public works programs begun during the Great Depression. His first mural, “Rural Free Delivery,” was created for the DeRidder post office. In 1937, Albrizio painted the mural “Shipment of the First Iron Produced in Russellville,” in the Russellville, Alabama, post office.
In 1938, he painted four fresco panels in the portico of the Louisiana State Exhibit Building in Shreveport. Two panels depicted views and industries of northern and southern Louisiana. Later in 1938, Albrizio painted four fresco panels in the Capitol Annex in Baton Rouge. These panels represented Louisiana’s achievements under Governor Richard W. Leche, who served from 1936 to 1939. In 1940, he painted a fresco, “The Struggle of Man,” in the New Iberia Courthouse. The subject of this mural was “the continual struggle waged by man to free himself from the forces and conditions which restrict his material, physical, and moral well-being.” This was the last mural Albrizio painted under the direction of the federal government.
Albrizio began painting on canvas while in New Orleans during the 1920s. His style was impressionistic, and he had two one-man shows sponsored by the Arts and Crafts Club in New Orleans. By the mid-1930s, his work had appeared at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. One of his oils, Jordan, depicting an African-American baptism, was exhibited at the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1939. From 1945 to 1946, Albrizio obtained a fellowship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to pursue creative painting. In 1946, the results of his efforts, which were surrealistic in style, were featured in a one-man show at the Passedoit Gallery in New York City. Two years later, the Art Association of New Orleans exhibited the show at the Delgado Museum of Art (now known as the New Orleans Museum of Art).
In 1949, Albrizio created the frescoes in the Waterman Steamship Building in Mobile, Alabama. Seven of the panels were done in true fresco: three panels depicted various phases of maritime commerce, while four panels featured the elements of land, water, fire, and air. The already-finished ceiling could not be done in true fresco and was instead painted with a mixture of ethyl silicate (liquefied stone) and paint. The ceiling depicted the heavens and celestial navigation. When dry, it had a stone finish much like a true fresco.
When completed in 1954, Albrizio’s fresco for New Orleans’s Union Passenger Terminal was one of the largest in the United States. It was made up of four panels, each measuring more than sixty feet by eight feet. Depicting 400 years of Louisiana history, the fresco was organized into the Age of Exploration, the Age of Colonization, the Age of Conflict, and the Modern Age. Epic in scope, this would prove to be Albrizio’s last fresco.
Before beginning the Union Passenger Terminal fresco, Albrizio had gone to Mexico to study mosaic, and he turned to this medium in his final years. In 1954, during renovations to the Louisiana State Capitol, Albrizio was asked to create another artwork for the building. Initially he designed a mosaic for the hallway where Huey Long was assassinated, a piece that would cover the bullet holes in the wall. When Earl Long became governor in 1956, however, work on the mosaic was halted. Eventually, Albrizio’s mosaic, completed in 1957, was installed in the Louisiana Supreme Court building in New Orleans. Albrizio also created mosaic murals for the City Court in Gretna and the Mental Health Center in Algiers. Several mosaic murals were also built in Mobile, Alabama, including works for Mobile General Hospital, the YMCA, and the municipal auditorium.
By 1965, Albrizio’s health had declined and he moved to the Baton Rouge General Hospital’s Guest House. In 1972, he painted a mural there depicting exercise and a religious theme. Albrizio died on January 6, 1973.