Julian Ritter - Sailboat at Sea
Artist: Julian Ritter (1909 - 2000)
Active: Hawaii, California / Germany
Title: Sailboat at Sea
Signature: Signed Lower Right
Size: 25.5 x 33.5
Frame: Mid Century Chop Moulding, Wide Linen Liner
Frame Size Overall: 32.75 x 40.75
Price: Please Contact Dealer
Artist: Julian Ritter (1909 - 2000)
Active: Hawaii, California / Germany
Title: Sailboat at Sea
Signature: Signed Lower Right
Size: 25.5 x 33.5
Frame: Mid Century Chop Moulding, Wide Linen Liner
Frame Size Overall: 32.75 x 40.75
Price: Please Contact Dealer
Click on the image above for a full size view.
The following biography is from the archives of askART.
Julian Ritter was an American painter best known for his paintings of nudes and clowns and for his ill-fated Pacific voyage that nearly cost the lives of Ritter and his crew.
Ritter's paintings were typically rich in color. His nudes celebrated the glamor and beauty of the female form. All of his figurative paintings expressed the humanness in his subjects. He also painted landscapes at different points during his career and complex compositions dealing with mystical and spiritual subjects during his later years.
Ritter was born Julian Stawski on September 19, 1909 in Hamburg, Germany, the only child of an aspiring Polish actress. His mother, Angela Stawska, claimed that his father was a Count but never revealed his identity. Angela's acting ambitions left little time to raise a child so Julian was raised by Angela's half-sister, Clara Bock, whom Julian called "Ciocia", the Polish word for "aunt". Julian was very close to Ciocia and she engendered his "bohemian" spirit.
Ciocia was over-protective and did not allow Julian to attend school until he was nine years old, leaving him well-behind the rest of his class. Ritter grew up in Hamburg, Germany and was a solitary youth who enjoyed wandering the docks of Hamburg and dreaming of distant lands. He enjoyed sketching ships in Hamburg's harbor which kindled his interest in art. Once he entered school, he was encouraged to pursue his art by both his teacher at school and also by de:Hugo Schnars-Alquist, a recognized seascape and ship painter who lived nearby. These interests turned to his two lifelong passions - art and the sea.
Angela married a handsome man from an intellectual family named Walther Fromm. Fromm was an engineer who started a ship-building company. Julian had a close relationship with Fromm who was the father he never had before and with whom he shared an interest in boats and the sea. Fromm was an accomplished cellist and Julian was surrounded by the music of Bach and Beethoven - the music that would later serve as background ambiance for his painting. Angela was fifteen years younger than Fromm and her immaturity and wild ways eventually led to divorce.
After her divorce, Angela and Julian suffered the same deprivation of most Germans in the aftermath of of World War I and the punitive reparations imposed upon Germany. Angela determined that there was better opportunity for her and Julian in the United States and so they immigrated in 1924. Angela arranged for the two to be brought aboard as crew members on the Norddeutcher Lloyd steamship Albert Ballin - she as a housekeeper using the name Angela Frahm and Julian as a cabin boy using the name Julian Fromm - traveling from Hamburg to New York City. When they reached New York, the two jumped ship with only $27.50 and knowing little English but both Julian and his mother adjusted well to their lives in the US.
Angela had met Karl and Dorothy Lindeman in Germany, and they now operated a temporary shelter for immigrants in New York City. They provided housing and got Angela and Julian jobs as a maid and a grocery stock boy, respectively. The two learned English by reading newspapers and listening to people talk. The two took the name "Ritter" after tiring of the "Julian Fromm where?" chiding that was likely because of their broken English; they saw nothing funny about it and determined to be taken seriously. Their U.S. Naturalization records reflect the name change.
Angela and Julian saved money for a year and moved uptown to an Eighty-Second Street apartment building. Seeing the opportunity to make quick money during Prohibition, Angela opened a speakeasy in the basement of the building. She hired a dancer named Tuti who slept in the speakeasy after it closed. Julian would come downstairs to the speakeasy and it was there that he was first exposed to sensuality and eroticism. He would later end up sleeping with Tuti when Angela was in the hospital with a fever and bad cough. When the speakeasy was raided and Angela told to get out of town, Julian and Angela moved to Chicago.
Ritter left New York landing in Philadelphia and Chicago before finally settling in Los Angeles. He held many menial jobs during this time - dishwasher, errand boy, order clerk. He also painted lamp shades and did freelance art. He was a frequent customer at vaudeville and burlesque theaters where the bawdy humor of slapstick comedians and strippers provided insight into the satire of the human condition. These experiences also provided the appreciation of dignity in the most common man which imbued his work as much as the formal schooling he would later achieve.
Angela and Julian moved to Chicago and Ritter began to take a serious interest in art while living there. He audited the night classes of Dr. Schroeder at the Chicago Art Institute. Recognizing that he needed more formal training, Ritter eventually followed his mother, Angela, to Los Angeles where he later won a scholarship to Art Center School (now, Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles). There he was introduced to figure painting under the tutelage of Stanley Reckless who studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Art and taught in the tradition of Frank Duveneck and the Munich School. This tradition involved the classical study of anatomy and used live models for subjects. The Munich School is characterized by a naturalistic style and dark chiaroscuro.
While still a student at Art Center School, Ritter received the following positive review for a showing of his work at the Brice-Lowe Galleries:
"Still another young artist holding his first local showing is Julian Ritter, whose water colors are at the Brice-Lowe Galleries. Of German birth he depicts various types and stages of man. Character is what interests him. His people are driven, by life or will. In one picture we see a procession of mendicants woefully singing or posing for sympathy, each a carefully studied type. In another a woman pushes the man who, in turn, pushes the wheelbarrow (his load) out on to the slender plank over the abyss. He has individual types of great interest: the old philosopher talking forever to a blank wall, the peasant woman going to church against the wind of life. Ritter's color is very delicate and helpful to his purpose, which is, however, mainly expressed through sensitive drawing."
Ritter graduated Art Center School in 1932 and found work at Los Angeles's film studios painting portraits for movie sets and doing other set design for Warner Brothers, MGM, Paramount and Universal. Ritter met Francesca Chesley, a tall beautiful actress, in 1933. They were married on December 16, 1934 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Ventura, CA. When Ritter lost his job at Warner Brothers, the two started arguing and Francesca eventually left Julian. The two remained friends through the years. Francesca was a guest at the gallery event where Ritter recalled his fated voyage.
Out of work, Ritter headed to San Francisco looking for work at the Golden Gate International Exhibition of 1939. He talked architect Mark Daniels into hiring him to paint minerals for the Mines, Minerals and Machinery Building. These 90-foot murals were a great success. With money from the fair, Ritter packed up his roadster and returned to Los Angeles where he rented a small studio and began painting.
Ritter exhibited at both the Gallery of Modern Art and the Newhouse Galleries in New York City during 1941. Both exhibitions were critically acclaimed. The Art News (March 15, 1941) wrote: "His style shows fluency and ease" and Arts Digest (November 15, 1941) wrote: "Ritter is more than versatile, he is complex, exceptionally talented." Edward Alden Jewell of The New York Times noted that Ritter's work was shown in the small entrance room of the Gallery of Modern Art, devoted to small oils, watercolors and gouaches in addition to the main exhibit. New York Times art critic, H.D., wrote of the Newhouse Galleries exhibition:
"Paintings and drawings by Julian Ritter, who has done portraits of movie stars, studied anatomy and been under contract to act in the films, may be seen at the Newhouse Galleries. This is rather flashy work with more than a little cleverness, and includes three paintings accompanied by poems—rather dire comments on life today."
The one-man show at the Newhouse Galleries was a particular success and led to portrait commissions. This was Ritter's big chance in the New York art market. However, attending a party thrown by a patron who commissioned a portrait of his daughter, Ritter got drunk and stripped off his clothes, calling the other attendees "phony baloneys". Ritter returned to Los Angeles feeling he was still his own man.
Ritter met Hildegarde (Hilde) Sabena Meyer-Radon one day in 1942 when he saw her walking past his studio to take violin lessons from an instructor at a studio next door. Hilde was born in Berlin on October 5, 1919 to Kurt and Gertrude Meyer-Radon. Kurt and his family immigrated to the US with Hilde arriving in New York aboard the Hamburg-American ship Hansa on October 21, 1923. The family eventually settled in Eagle Rock, CA. Kurt was an architect and a talented artist doing woodcuts and etchings and the family was generally cultured. Hilde worked at the original Walt Disney Studios on Hyperion Way where she ran the department that mixed the animators' paint colors for Snow White and the other early classics. Hilde's appreciation for the arts led to a very warm friendship between the two and they saw each other often.
At the US entrance into the war, Ritter wanted to enlist in the Navy due to his love of the sea, his sense of adventure and his loyalty to his adopted country. However, since Ritter was not a US citizen, the Navy would not let him enlist. Julian tried to find a way to join the Navy even petitioning the office of the Secretary of the War Department and even the president explaining why he would be an asset.
Unfortunately for Ritter, rules were rules and no waiver was granted. Ritter went back to painting while he awaited his draft notice which arrived in November, 1942. Ritter reported to his draft board in Fresno, CA on November 12, 1942 knowing that this was also a path to US citizenship. He was assigned to the 40th Engineering Combat Regiment, which was organized in Camp Pickett, VA under the command of Col. Mason and was attached to the 45th Infantry Division which was part of General George Patton's 7th Army. Ritter was initially a member of the 3rd Battalion which trained at Fort Lewis, WA.
While at Camp Pickett, Ritter was selected to paint a portrait of Lt. General Ben "Yoo-Hoo" Lear who was the commanding officer of the 2nd Army based in Tennessee. Ritter realized that he would be deploying soon and asked Hilde to come join him on Memphis. Once there, Hilde did not want to share a room with Ritter since they were not married. Julian's solution was simple - he proposed to Hilde. Because there was no waiting period for a marriage license in Mississippi, Hilde and Julian traveled the next morning to Mississippi where they got a license and were married in a small chapel in 1942. The two had a six-week honeymoon in a Memphis hotel room while Julian completed the painting of General Lear. After the portrait was complete, Ritter returned to Camp Pickett but was apparently reassigned to the 1st Battalion which was later re-designated as the 2829th Battalion.
The 40th Engineers received additional training at Fort Pierce, FL and then deployed to the Gulf of Oran, Algeria to train for the Invasion of Sicily. After the successful landing in Sicily, the 40th ECR was commanded by Col. O.B. Beasley and completed the Sicily invasion and prepared for the Invasion of Italy. Patton was no longer commanding the 7th Army and had been dispatched to England. The 40th ECR eventually became part of the Peninsula Base Station in Naples. While in Naples, Ritter became a US citizen based on his military service in October 30, 1943.
The 40th ECR eventually participated in the invasion of Southern France and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. The 2829th Battalion was charged with burying the many bodies at Dachau, but it is unclear that Ritter was involved in this activity.
Ritter attained the rank of Technician Fourth Grade (T4) and is shown in the roster as having served at both Regimental headquarters and the headquarters of the 1st/2829th Battalion. He first served as an interrogator and later as a battalion photographer whose job it was to document the condition of various infrastructure including roads and bridges. The latter assignment provided a degree of autonomy, which Ritter used to indulge in personal recreation.
The confirmation of Ritter's unit comes from the roster maintained by former members of the 40th ECR in an email exchange with Al French, the historian and website editor for the 40th Engineering Combat Regiment.
Ritter was honorably discharged from the Army in October, 1945 and returned to Los Angeles to paint and to raise a family. His discharge papers reflect that he was a member of the 2829th Battalion at the time of his separation from the Army.
When Ritter first returned from the war, he found himself unable to paint anything but morbid, gruesome paintings of death, darkness and despair for about a year as he worked through the demons of the horrors of the war. However, once he started painting, Ritter began his most prolific period. Julian would regularly work long hours and he became known for the high quality and fine craftsmanship of his nude studies and clowns. Collectors acquired his paintings throughout the West, particularly in Southern California, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
Ritter's mother, Angela, had parlayed years of hard work as a hotel housekeeper into an apartment building in the Hollywood Hills. Ritter and Hilde first settled in the Hollywood Hills on Rinconia Drive where they built their first house not far from the "Hollywood" sign. Ritter landscaped the steep lot and built a small studio at the top of the grade near the road. Ritter's work continued to receive favorable reviews. Ritter and Hilde had two children while living in Hollywood - Christine was born March 22, 1947, and Michael was born September 2, 1948.
Art critic Arthur Miller of the Los Angeles Times wrote in a 1947 review of Ritter's one-man show at the James Vigeveno Galleries in Westwood, CA : "Julian Ritter, still-young painter and etcher who has not shown here in many years, has a large exhibit at the James Vigeveno Galleries to June 12. It shows him remarkably gifted and various. Some will like his many paintings of girls or nudes, done in charming colors, or his characterful portraits of older folk or children. Others may prefer his slightly sardonic, action-packed grotesques of circus clowns or of merely comical people. He also can turn deeply serious with Refugees or Slums. The world is evidently a stage for this imaginative artist, who has the wit and the craft to present it filled with teeming humanity. A. M."
In a 1948 "Brush Strokes" column in The Los Angeles Times commented: "Julian Ritter's paintings of clowns, on view in the gallery at 401 S Lake Ave., Pasadena, are notable for liveliness of expression and color. Ritter has chosen to paint clowns, he explains, because "In the clown one sees all the emotions a man can express; to record him is to depict humanity itself."
Ritter moved the family to Don Pio Drive in Woodland Hills, CA in the early 1950s. The home included a studio building on a hilltop which, like all his studios, featured a pot-belly stove. In addition to his painting, Ritter was an talented landscaper and he terraced the front and rear hills with steps, paths and pools all made from slabs of broken concrete.
At the urging of his brother-in-law, Stewart Potter, Ritter began selling his paintings in Las Vegas in February, 1950. The two made the trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in Ritter's 1949 Dodge Wayfarer, a yellow convertible with no rear seat and an extended trunk which would be packed with paintings. The two went from casino to casino without any success until they met Bill Moore, the owner of the Hotel Last Frontier. Ritter sold Moore thirteen framed nudes for $1000 which would become the basis of the Silver Slipper Collection of paintings. Ritter and Potter would make additional trips to Las Vegas and sold additional paintings to the Hotel Last Frontier and its adjoining Silver Slipper Casino. They also sold paintings to other hotels, casinos and their employees.
The entertainment district, invited Ritter to do a one-man show at the Swiss Chalet Galleries and to paint a mural for the Bismarck Inn. This show was successful and led to numerous commissions including the Mr Whimsey clowns for the U.O. Colson Company. Ritter sent for Hilde and the children who travelled from Los Angeles to Chicago on the famed Santa Fe Railroad Super Chief and they stayed in Chicago for several months while Julian completed his commissions.
Hilde became pregnant with a 3rd child around 1955 and suffered a miscarriage.
Julian was enjoying success with his clown and nude paintings but, at the same time, Ritter felt trapped by this success. He was not painting the great works he imagined, instead hemmed in by the call for his clowns, nudes and portraits. Julian felt that he needed to get away to renew himself and convinced Hilde to move to Mexico. The Ritters sold the Woodland Hills home in 1956 and moved to Mexico, primarily in San Blas, Nayarit, a small town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico located between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, where Ritter continued his painting. Ritter wrote in a note published in The Los Angeles Times: "the place is a paradise for landscape painters and living is cheap." Ritter's children, Michael and Christine, attended a Mexican school during this time. Ritter said later, "My time in San Blas was important to me. I developed a new conception of color and a self-assurance which made me a better painter."
After nearly a year in San Blas, Ritter returned to California in 1957 and purchased the house at 2321 Edgewater Way in the Santa Barbara Mesa neighborhood. Ritter again turned the yard into a remarkable garden, and the Ritter house was a popular destination for the neighborhood kids. Many family members also looked forward to spending time at the house during their summer vacations.
Hilde worked at the noted Brooks Institute of Photography while Julian continued to paint steadily as his paintings commanded higher values. Most importantly, Ritter was, at last, free to paint the works he wanted to. Julian's work was represented in continuing exhibitions at the Poulsen Galleries in Pasadena and at frequent showings at the James Vigeveno Gallery, Westwood, CA. He was also represented in San Francisco by the Maxwell Galleries and the Kotzbeck Gallery (which had started representing him from his time in San Francisco), and by galleries in Palm Springs, CA and Scottsdale, AZ. Ritter was at the height of his commercial success with numerous galleries representing him at this time but he disliked that the galleries were making money that he felt should be going to him. He had always had a somewhat stormy relationship with his dealers and preferred to deal directly with collectors. About this time, Ritter successfully set out to build a group of patrons who could provide financial security and independence, however, many of these collectors were demanding the same nudes and clowns that Julian had tired of.
In 1958, Circus, Inc (Los Angeles, CA) published and distributed five reproductions of mounted 8x10 inch paintings. The paintings included the clowns Dilly, Flim, Flam, Helter and Skelter.
Julian learned to sail in the early 1960s from his youngest brother-in-law, John Meyer-Radon, a seasoned sailor who used to crew on trans-Pacific yacht races. (Meyer-Radon once crewed for James Michener, sailing the Pacific researching for his book, Hawaii. Ritter loved the sea from his youth and, now with the means to do so, purchased his first boat, The Hilde, in January, 1964.
In 1963, Ritter had a show at the Poulsen Galleries in Pasadena, CA. It was generally well-received with Scott McClean, the gallery director, stating "This is probably the first exhibit to show the whole range and variety of the work of a man who has been known for two specialties - nudes and clowns. I think this broader view of Julian Ritter's work is long overdue."
But not all reviews of Ritter's work were glowing. A 1964 Los Angeles Times review of the same exhibit by Constance Perkins stated: "The variety of exhibitions shown at the Poulsen Galleries ranges from the experimental intaglio drawings and prints by Dean Meeker to the familiar seascapes by Bennett Bradbury, the delicate Limoges enamels executed on copper by Liza Selzer and a retrospective viewing of the works of Julian Ritter whose fame rests largely on his sensual paintings of the nude figure. Second in popularity are Ritter's clowns. From any aesthetic viewpoint, both the pink nudes and the clowns become ingratiatingly sickly, redundant and commercially dull although technically capable enough.
Almost unknown are the artist's portrait pieces and a series of both large canvases and small abstract drawings in which the surreal element is dominant. The portraits are traditional and the most genuine. The drawings become very "slick." The large canvases, on the other hand, tend to be too personal and too involved in allegory to hold as significant statements."
In 1964, Hilde had been sick for a year but refused to see a doctor. When she collapsed, Julian insisted and doctors discovered she had cancer. She had a mastectomy and struggled for two years before succumbing to the disease. Hilde died January 22, 1966. Julian chose the second movement of the Beethoven Symphony # 7 as the music for her service, leaving a copy of the record on her coffin and then sobbing uncontrollably at the loss of his muse. She was only forty-six when she died.
With the great love and the cornerstone of his life gone, Julian began drinking heavily. He once again stopped painting for about a year as he agonized over his loss. Julian would later state "I became a lousy cowardly drunk after my wife died. I had no respect for myself - morally, physically or spiritually. My mind and my body and my inner-self were too tired to conceive anything. I was burnt out."
Ritter gradually started painting again but he was feeling restive. His long-time infatuation with the sea beckoned him. During this period, Ritter was commissioned to paint a portrait of Lauren ("Laurie") Kokx (August 9, 1948 - April 29, 2006. Ritter had been recommended to Laurie's mother by an art restorer in Ventura who knew Julian. Laurie was from a prominent Orange County, CA family. They had moved north to Ojai, CA where they owned orange groves. Laurie had graduated from a boarding school and shared Ritter's love for music and art - much as Hilde had. Ritter would later became involved with Kokx who was forty years younger than Ritter.
After Hilde's death, Ritter felt that he needed to take a break and get away from the Edgewater Way house that held so many memories of Hilde. He felt the need to renew himself both personally and artistically so Ritter sold the house on Edgewater Way and its contents for $37,000. He bought a custom-built yawl still in dry dock in Morro Bay, CA named The Galilee from William Hall (whose own plans had been to sail the world with his wife but reconsidered when his wife died) and planned a voyage around the Pacific with the intention of painting as he travelled distant ports. At long last he would marry his two passions - his painting and the sea - into a floating art studio that would allow the adventurer in him to see and interpret different worlds. In February, 1968, Ritter and Laurie Kokx sailed The Galilee south before heading west onto the Pacific high seas (see Ordeal at sea below). When Ritter reached Puntarenas, Costa Rica, they decided to stay for six months. Julian loved the town and its people and painted every day, sometimes landscapes but, most often, people, especially the characters that populated the town. As a gesture of thanks, Julian held an exhibit of the works painted there for the locals to enjoy before heading back out to sea.
On the eve of February 2, 1968, Ritter set sail from Santa Barbara, CA aboard his 45-foot yawl, The Galilee, headed south on the initial leg of his Pacific voyage. His plan was to paint along the way, hoping to draw new inspiration from his travels. He was living the dream he had held since childhood involving his two great passions - the sea and painting. After the fateful trip, Ritter was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying "You don't buy a boat in order to have a boat, you buy a boat in order to fulfill your frustrated dreams of some kind."
Ritter planned to sail from harbor to harbor along the coast of the Americas before turning west into the South Pacific after visiting the Galapagos Islands. He was accompanied by a frequently changing crew. When Ritter reached Acapulco, Mexico, he realized that he missed the company of Laurie Kokx whose portrait he had painted shortly before he left Santa Barbara. Ritter called Laurie and invited her to join him on the cruise; Laurie flew to Acapulco and remained on the boat until they were later rescued at sea.
The voyage went smoothly at first with the Galilee and her crew visiting North and Central American ports. Ritter and Kokx stayed in a small hotel in Puntarenas, Costa Rica for six months. Julian loved the town and its people. He made friends with everyone and painted the local characters. He put on a one-man show to repay the kindness of the people of Puntarenas and then sent the paintings back to Los Angeles for a December showing at the Bernard Gallery in Los Angeles, CA.
Ritter left Puntarenas and headed for the Galapagos Islands and later Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora amongst other places. Julian painted the beautiful landscapes he saw and would take excursions ashore to these exotic locations and people and rough-in a painting which he would later finish on the Galilee which was transformed into a floating art studio.
Winfried Heiringhoff joined the crew at the South Pacific island of Bora Bora. Ritter prepared the Galilee for the 2500 mile trip to Hilo, HI, making sure the vessel was seaworthy. The Galilee departed Bora Bora on June 17, 1970 expecting to make it to the harbor at Hilo in about 30 days.
Then things started going wrong according to an account in the Los Angeles Times:
"Both the motor and a starter coil went haywire. The oil pump and generator broke down. The battery went dead. The sextant proved faulty. And the radio went out. In the days that followed, the boom fell and missed Ritter by a few inches, and once he fell 20 feet while rigging the forward mast."
"And we were in the kind of climate where the stitching in the sails worked loose so we were constantly having to repair sails," Ritter said.
Then the sturdy oak-framed Galilee began to take on water, developing leaks forward and aft.
"We were taking on 75 to 250 gallons of water a day and pumping it out by hand," he said. What began as a pleasant voyage became an 87-day struggle for survival for Ritter and his two companions.
The Galilee and her crew spent the next 87 days adrift. The crew ran out of food after 40 days and survived by making a soup from the algae they would scrape from the hull and seasoning it with nutmeg and cloves. They occasionally caught a flying fish or a couple of squid which they would add to the soup. The algae slowly disappeared from the boat and the crew had nothing to eat and were too weak to even attempt fishing with their improvised hooks. The boat drifted as the crew suffered the agony of relentless hunger and the knowledge that they might die. Ritter and Kokx talked about this every night. Despite all this, Ritter experienced a spiritual awakening that provoked thoughts of new paintings in a new style. On September 14, 1970, the Galilee was sighted by the U.S. Navy combat stores ship, USS Niagara Falls. Ship doctors described the emaciated crew members as "living skeletons only four days away from death." The Coast Guard said finding the ship was "simply a stroke of fate."
Ritter always maintained that they were not lost but simply a distressed vessel unable to right its course. Ritter was quoted as saying "I think the boat is bewitched. I don't like to use that term because people think that you are an idiot, but I do feel it is bewitched, I can't help it."
John Meyer-Radon (who taught Ritter to sail) knew that Julian was not a good sailor so he was surprised that Julian got as far as Central America after leaving Santa Barbara. Meyer-Radon was not surprised that Julian was nearly lost at sea on his Pacific voyage and the turnover in crew was in part the result that crew felt Ritter was not prepared to tackle a trans-Pacific voyage.
Ritter decided to sell the Galilee, which had been towed by the USS Niagara Falls into a Hawaiian port, nearly as soon as he was safe on shore. The slightly superstitious captain loved her, but he could not trust here anymore. He wanted to make sure the boat would go to someone who would take care of her so he arranged a direct sale to a couple from Redondo Beach, CA, based on a down payment with future monthly payments to follow. After a couple of years of missed payments, Ritter decided that he had to repossess the $35,000 boat. Unfortunately, the boat was missing from Redondo Beach harbor. A few days later, a search found the deserted boat in San Diego, CA.
Ritter had the boat cleaned and repainted and brought to Newport Beach, CA, to be sold through a yacht broker. The boat was purchased by Thomas Carney Jr.
On February 5, 1976 the 45-foot yawl once again ran into trouble when it ran aground a sand bar and tipped onto its side near the entrance to the Long Beach Marina in Alamitos Bay. Rough waters prevented U.S. Coast Guard attempts to secure a line to the boat so it could be towed to safety. The boat was completely submerged at the bay entrance.
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Carney, the son and daughter-in-law of the boat's owner, managed to swim to the breakwater. The boat's skipper and another passenger were rescued from the water. Even as this was happening, looters swam from the breakwater and stole the boat's wheel before the Coast Guard chased them off. The $70,000 Galilee began breaking up.
When Ritter heard of the boat's demise he said "I had my own experiences, but the people who own it now had no bad experiences. And the boat was in capable hands." Ritter, of course, still felt that the ship was jinxed.
In December, 1968, Ritter had a show at the Bernard Gallery in Los Angeles of works painted in Puntarenas, Costa Rica that he had sent home. After they were rescued, Ritter and Laurie returned to the mainland after recuperating in Hawaii for a month. Although he was still recovering and underweight, Ritter retold the harrowing experience of the Galilee in a three-hour talk at a Los Angeles gallery. In attendance were family members, patrons and his first wife, Francesca Chesley.
Julian and Laurie settled into a house in a rural Santa Barbara location at 2934 Torito Road where they stayed until Ritter moved to Maui in 1985. Julian's near-death experience and his visions led him to two years of intense painting. During this period, Ritter was arguably at the peak of his artistic expression. He was already a fulfilled artist who saw himself as a maestro and people treated him accordingly. His subject matter included paintings which were more mystical as he worked out the demons from the voyage, his loss of Hilde and his own alcoholism. To meet the demands of his collectors and his need for money, Ritter continued painting sensuous nudes, portraits and occasional clown compositions. But he started painting more frequently the complex compositions he saw in his heart.
Ritter donated six of his clown paintings for an auction to raise money for a group working for the release of American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. The auction was held after a buffet dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William R. Morgan of Pasadena during mid-December, 1970. Among the guests of honor was Francis Gary Power whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over Russia. One painting, a 24x36 oil, was reportedly sold for $3600. Ritter made the contribution out of sympathy for the prisoners and their families and personal gratitude to the Navy for his rescue. Ritter said "I know what deprivation is after that ordeal. I can relate to the terrible suffering of those POWs."
Ritter appeared on the TV game show "To Tell the Truth" along with two "impostor" contestants and the celebrity panelists in an episode that aired December 22, 1970. All three of the panelists picked Julian since he was the only one of the three contestants who looked like he had been lost at sea without food. Ritter had a show from November 19th through December 15th, 1975, at the Howard E. Morseburg Galleries on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles which included some of this new work. The show was called "Julian's World" and consisted of 101 paintings and 16 drawings. This was Julian's last major public exhibit. One painting which did stand out was a crucifixion - Ritter had posed and was photographed and then painted himself onto the cross in a self-portrait.
Ritter had always had difficult relationships with galleries because he felt they were making money that he should be earning. He preferred to sell directly to collectors. Ritter had a sufficient number of patrons at this point in his life so that he no longer needed to rely on gallery showings. However, many of these patrons were most interested in his commercial nudes and clowns rather than the more artistic paintings. Although his work for patrons was not expressing his full artistic talent, the paintings from this period are considered some of his best.
In the summer of 1984, Julian and Laurie separated. It was intensely emotional and neither of them liked to talk about this time.
After separating in the summer of 1984, Julian and Laurie remained estranged from one another - Julian was alone. There was a once again a deep change in Julian and his work.
In 1985, Julian's son, Michael, returned from abroad and decided that he wanted to settle in Hawaii. Since Michael had been overseas and had not established a credit history in the US, he asked Julian if we would co-sign for a mortgage loan for a house in Maui, Hawaii. Julian offered, instead, that he would move to Maui with Michael. They bought a house in Kula, Maui, Hawaii and Julian almost immediately contracted to have a really great studio and gallery built - something he had never had before. It was another "new beginning" for Julian which resulted in several huge compositions showing the complexity of his work. Julian also began to teach.
Julian also set to work on landscaping this property as he had the previous houses he owned. He laid out a lush tropical landscape including a koi pond and flew his good-luck pennant, the "Green Monkey", overhead.
Ritter suffered a debilitating stroke in December of 1985. After a period of convalescence, Julian began painting again. Although the stroke limited Ritter's painting ability (he was never again able to express the full capacity of his painting ability), Julian did continue to write and to teach. He typically had a half-dozen students at any time who he mentored in his studio including John Comer, Cliff Ostrover, Amanda McConnell, Tina Fein and Nikki Nielsen.
In 1989, Michael Ritter commissioned a 30-minute video about the life and art of Julian Ritter. It is titled "Julian Ritter--Palette of Passion" . It was written and produced by Keith Gilchrist and was filmed and directed by Christopher Gentsch.
Julian passed away on March 4, 2000 at the age of ninety years old in Kula, Maui, Hawaii. Albert Einstein's words serve as his epitaph, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious."
Ritter was raised a Roman Catholic although he was not religious in his adult life — Ritter led the life of a hedonistic artist. Some family members recount that he did frequent Catholic churches to reflect. Although his paintings were not overtly religious, many of his works did have a mystical quality. One example is The Clown Funeral. In it, clowns are bearing one of their own, eyes closed but wearing a beautiful clown smile. Julian appears in self-portrait in the painting. Some compare this painting to El Greco's El Entierro Del Conde de Orgaz ("The Internment of the Count of Orgaz").
Ritter was a well-read man whose favorite book was The Story of the Human Race by Henry Thomas (published Boston, Winchell-Thomas Company, 1935).
Ritter was conservative in his politics although he never voted or served jury duty. He felt that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had sold the US out to the Russians. He also had no patience for Vietnam war protestors including his nephews and son. Despite being politically conservative, Julian was socially liberal - some might even say loose.
Ritter had a number of interesting friends, many his (hard-)drinking buddies. George Morgan, the son of Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz), who was wealthy from the family business distributing Angostura Bitters, was a drinking buddy. John Coleman, who taught at Art Center, and his family were also close friends who visited the Edgewater Way house frequently.
Ritter befriended Chick Rosenthal who lived in the same Hollywood bungalows in the 1930's and maintained that friendship until Rosenthal's death. Rosenthal accompanied Ritter to New York in a van in 1941 when Ritter was offered the one-man show at the Newhouse Galleries.
There were a also number of local Santa Barbara characters Julian was quite devoted to. One was Ortlieb Constantine, who occupied a ramshackle compound on the outskirts of Santa Barbara and had several sons. Ortlieb made home-brew beer, among other things. His place was the scene of many drinking parties where Hilde had to pick Julian up (literally) and drive him home. According to Julian's son, Michael Ritter, Julian seemed to attract many "screwballs."
Julian also maintained friendships with a number of his models including Janet Boyd, a Las vegas showgirl whom he had painted several times. Ritter began a long-term friendship with Rudolph Axford from Venice, CA in the mid-1950s. Rudolph shared Julian's conservative politics and love of boats, and was a Ritter patron who accumulated many pieces of his work.
Greg Autry was another friend and patron. Autry met Ritter in 1983 after he purchased a fake "Julian" in a Laguna Beach gallery. Autry both commissioned paintings and purchased Julian's work. Autry purchased the Silver Slipper collection of Julian's paintings from the Summa Corporation in a closed-bid auction in the late 1980s.
A man named Bill Morgan also commissioned a number of paintings.
Although Ritter was best known for his oil paintings of nudes, clowns and portraits, he also worked in other media including pen-and-ink with watercolor, charcoal and Conté crayons and painted other subjects including portraits, landscapes, and complex compositions. He also liked doing caricature, often drawing cartoons rather than sending letters to friends. Ritter was a versatile artist whose style changed as he grew both as a painter and with life's experiences.
Art historian and award-winning author Phyllis Settacase Barton wrote of Ritter:
Labeling the work of Julian Ritter is not easy because his genius is not readily defined. This is because for most of his life he has painted women as though he were exploring a garden - with eyes, lips and nipples painted like blue, red and pink blossoms. His earlier work also includes lots of clowns, many of which he painted with introspection and compassion - generally to the exclusion of their surroundings - telling us that his mind, heart and eye were in league with the human being beneath the costume, behind the make-up.
As an adventurer into human nature, he painted portraits, each flavored with the spirit of the sitter, each embodying the effervescence of the cycle of life. In viewing all of these paintings - nudes, clowns, portraits - we begin to become aware that Julian Ritter has been on a journey - not just a physical journey - but a speculative one in which he has really been exploring himself.
But the quintessential Julian Ritter comes to us through a series of sumptuously painted, monumental pictures which I choose to call lifescapes. His promethean story about how he has travelled from spiritual darkness into the shimmering world of rapture. Julian's magnificent vertical work which he calls "The Black Hole" tells us the story of Julian's transgression and his penance.
One example of a mixed-media watercolor and chalk is Bachelor's Housekeeping painted in 1939. The painting appears to have been on exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in San Franciso in 1963.
Ritter had a steady presence in the Los Angeles art scene with exhibitions and showings from 1947 through 1975 when he had his last major gallery showing at the Howard E. Morseburg Galleries in Los Angeles. His work was typically on display in any given week at some gallery in Southern California as evidenced through display ads in the Sunday Los Angeles Times. He was also frequently listed in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times. After this, Ritter had a sufficient number of patrons to support his lifestyle without the need for gallery showings.
He continued painting increasingly personal subjects as his circle of patrons grew to support his independence, supplementing this work with the nudes, portraits and occasional clown compositions his patrons demanded.
Ritter painted a number of prominent Californians as a freelance painter. The studios often employed Ritter to do quick knock-off of an Old World portrait to be used on set. He also painted many actors, especially while employed at Warner Brothers where he would paint the actor in his current role. For instance, he painted Paul Muni in his role as Zola in The Life of Emile Zola. He also painted Ruby Keeler, Clara Bow, Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Havilland and Veronica Lake. These paintings and many others are likely hidden away in a dusty backlot warehouse. While in the Army, Ritter was selected to paint a portrait of Lt. General Ben "Yoo-Hoo" Lear, the commanding officer of the US 2nd Army. Ritter also painted Jimmy Stewart in his Bubbles the Clown costume Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth and the clown Emmett Kelly. Once Ritter became known in Las Vegas, some of the Las Vegas elite including Benny Binion, Moe Dalitz and Doby Doc commissioned portraits of themselves or their girlfriends.
Nudes and Showgirls: Ritter once said "Eroticism is a natural thing for an artist to do because an artist is not inhibited. Rembrandt, Raphael, they all did erotic work." And so, Ritter, like the masters, painted these erotic works with the greatest dignity and respect for the subject. Ritter's most famous nude was American Venus. This was not so much a painting as it was a pose — a horizontal frame of a reclined nude woman. Ritter painted several variations of this pose.
Other famous nudes include paintings of Janet Boyd, a successful Las Vegas showgirl, whom he also painted as a showgirl in his famed painting The Gibson Girl, and a model named Susie whom Julian used for several paintings from 1963 to 1966. There were many other nudes using various models. Julian had the gift of never making a woman look "cheap" in a nude painting. All of these paintings were very successful commercially.
Janet Boyd later wrote to Julian:...I only got to be with you a few years but wonderful memories I have and will cherish. Not every girl gets to be a Ritter model. I loved every moment posing for you. The early mornings working in the studio in Santa Barbara are happy memories for me. And because your works of me will keep me young and beautiful forever.
Ritter painted a number of nudes of his first wife, the actress Francesca Chesley. Julian also painted a couple of nudes of his second wife, Hilde. The latter are beautiful paintings that remain in the family collection. He also painted many showgirl paintings, the most famous of which is Ruby, a painting of a African-American girl. He made several showgirl paintings using a model named LeeAnn which were also commercially successful.
Clowns: Although he had painted clowns before, Ritter started painting a series of unusual or tender clowns in the summer of 1948. Remarkably, his first visit to a circus was in 1949. Ritter said of his clown paintings "I don't need to see clowns. My clown portraits are more like human portraits in clown make-up. They are a combination of my imagination and my memory of faces, or even my own face."
Ritter was commissioned in the early 1950s by an art gallery on Ventura Blvd in the San Fernando Valley to paint a set of small 8x10" clowns called the Helter Skelter Clowns. The clowns included Dilly, Dally, Flim, Flam, Pitter, Patter and Helter and Skelter. These were considered amongst his best clown paintings and were quite popular. In 1958, the Los Angeles company Circus, Inc. did reproductions of five of these clowns: Dilly, Flim, Flam, Helter and Skelter. Ritter also painted a series of clowns based on "Mr. Whimsey," a clown with his dog. The U.O. Colson Company was a leading lithography house from 1920-1965 based in Paris, Illinois. During the 1950s, the company commissioned Julian to paint a set of these paintings for a calendar. Ritter painted several more "Mr. Whimsey" paintings, some of which were part of the Silver Slipper collection.
Beyond that, Ritter painted many other whiteface clowns of various types (happy, sad, fat, thin) which were very successful commercially. One example of these clowns hung in a bar in Arcadia, CA called Clown Town: Three Happy Clowns from the Clown Town bar. Ritter also painted a number of clown compositions featuring groups of clowns (e.g.,"Clown Band and "Clown Funeral") and clown with nude or showgirl montages. Some of these feature a single clown with his arm around a showgirl, others portrayed a single nude surrounded by a variety of clowns and others were groups of clowns.
Ritter tired of painting his commercially successful clowns and made the painting Clown Funeral to announce the end of his clown paintings. After that, he painted only the occasional clown composition or a clown painting commissioned by a patron.
Landscapes: Although he was known primarily as a figurative painter, Ritter painted a number of landscapes, particularly when he was in San Blas, Mexico and when he made his Pacific voyage. Ritter said of the San Blas paintings that they informed him with a new sense of color. The South Pacific seemed to further transform Ritter's paintings in much the same manner as it had on Paul Gauguin decades earlier. Though these never achieved the commercial success of his nudes and clowns, they were arguably amongst his best paintings.
Lifescapes: Ritter was a man who lived in his emotions. His paintings have been described as a "visual record of his emotional life." Nowhere is this more true than in the paintings art historian Phyllis Settacase Barton called "lifescapes." It could be argued that the first of these lifescapes were the clown compositions. The painting, Clown Band is no less a joyful presentation of life than Ritter's later work, God's Children. Clown Funeral was a deeply introspective look with Julian, in self-portrait, carrying the body of a fallen clown - his announcement that he was no longer interested in painting the clowns that had brought him so much commercial success. The montages of clown with either nudes or showgirls shows the duality in all of us - the sensuality and eroticism of the female form with the detached folly of the accompanying clown(s).
But the true lifescapes were those works that Ritter painted when he had the patronage that allowed him to eschew dealing with galleries - Ritter finally started painting the great compositions which he saw in his visions. These works were described as "mystical looks into the core of existence and the meaning of life." Many of these were painted during and after the voyage that almost took his life but which also opened his mind and heart to see deeper and more introspective subjects and expressions. Paintings of the voyage revealed the absolute terror in the hollowed-out eyes of the subjects. The mystical paintings revealed a faith that higher powers were at work.
One critic wrote "Julian is a man who has seen life, absorbed it and now presents it." Sweeping and majestic paintings presented the very essence of Ritter's emotions. The Carousel was a complicated composition exploring man's spiritual nature. Ritter dealt with man's hypocrisy in The Sunday Preacher. Ritter's Man on the Cross was a deeply personal view into Ritter's emotions as he painted his self-portrait onto the cross. One critic wrote of the piece: "Undoubtedly, it is a daring and modern interpretation of life. It is a work which will cause considerable controversy. But what great artist hasn't caused that? What artist of any note has not or will not speak his own mind through his pictures?"
When Julian and Laurie separated in the summer of 1984, Ritter's work became more dark expressing the aloneness he felt in his partner's absence. Ritter's work changed again when he went to Maui, building again on the spiritual. Art historian, Phyllis Settacase Barton wrote of these paintings: "In the glowing panoramic scenes, powerfully and prayerfully, Julian Ritter lets us in on some of his most intimate secrets, eases us into his precious discoveries and shares with us deepest concerns."
Silver Slipper Casino Collection: The Silver Slipper Casino collection started in February, 1950 when Ritter sold thirteen framed nude paintings for $1000 to Bill Moore the owner of the Hotel Last Frontier, which was the second hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. At that time, the Hotel Last Frontier had an adjoining property called the The Last Frontier Village - an authentic recreation of an old Western town during the gold rush days - which included the Silver Slipper Saloon and Gambling Hall. Ritter sold three additional lots of paintings to Moore for use in the Silver Slipper Casino. By 1962, a total of 33 paintings of nudes, showgirls, clowns and clown/nude montages adorned the walls of the Silver Slipper's upstairs theater.
After ten years of exposure to cigarette smoke and aging, the Silver Slipper paintings needed "restoration." Ritter convinced the Silver Slipper's management that only he could properly restore the paintings and that they would need ongoing restoration in the future. The owners arranged for free hotel rooms, meals plus a fee which allowed Ritter and his assistant to enjoy a Las Vegas vacation for doing only a few hours work of cleaning the paintings with a concoction of turpentine and linseed oil.
On April 4, 1955, the Last Frontier Hotel became the New Frontier Hotel under the management Jacob Kozloff. In 1967, Howard Hughes bought both the New Frontier Hotel and the Silver Slipper Casino at the encouragement of local authorities who were concerned about possible corruption. There is also lore that suggests that Hughes bought the properties because he was concerned that his penthouse suite across the street at the Desert Inn was being spied upon with cameras in the toe of the giant neon slipper sign. Hughes' people made changes to the New Frontier Hotel and rechristened it as the Frontier Hotel and Casino with the Silver Slipper Casino operating independently.
After Hughes' death, Howard Hughes' Summa Corporation sold both the Silver Slipper Casino and the Frontier Hotel to the Elardi family in 1988 and divested itself of its contents including the paintings which were auctioned off in a closed-bid auction. Ritter patron, Greg Autry, won the auction and continues to hold the collection, which has not been seen for many years.