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Clown Paintings

Julian was a natural clown painter and his clown paintings were his bread-and-butter work for many years. He would always have some of his small 8x10 clowns no matter where he went - galleries, Las Vegas, San Franciso, any place he went. He would sell to dealers, cooks in Las Vegas or a man on the street.

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 1952 by an art gallery on Ventura Blvd in the San Fernando Valley to paint a set of small 8x10 inch clowns called the Helter Skelter Clowns. The clowns included Dilly, Dally, Flim, Flam, Willy, Nilly, Helter and Skelter. These were considered amongst his best clown paintings and were quite popular. In 1952, the Los Angeles company Circus, Inc. did reproductions of of all eight clowns as 7.5x9 inch prints. It also offered prints of Helter and Skelter at larger 9.5x12.5 inch and 15.375x19 inch sizes.

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. The company commissioned Julian to paint a set of six of these paintings for a calendar. He delivered the first painting in late 1952 and another five in 1953. Ritter painted several more "Mr. Whimsey" paintings on spec, some of which became part of the Silver Slipper collection. These paintings were distinguished because the Colson Company insisted he sign the paintings "Julian Ritter" instead of his typical "Julian" signature.

One of his most memorable clown paintings was Jimmy Stewart in his role as "Buttons the Clown" in the Cecil B. DeMille movie, "The Greatest Show on Earth." This life-size painting was commissioned by Chicago businessman, Otto Eitel, to hang in the lobby of his Palace Theater during the run of the movie and later hung in a thirteenth-floor suite at his Bismarck Hotel in Chicago.

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 Clown 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.

Ritter later remarked:
"Oh shit, I painted so god-damn many clowns. I can't recall how many. I painted clowns with with guitar, banjo, mandolin, drums, trumpet, tuba, glockenspiel, flute, clarinet, trombone and violin. No viola. Never a piano."
​Please visit the Clown Gallery to see our collection of Julian Ritter clown paintings.