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Art overview

Although Julian 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. However, even when Julian painted some more abstract pieces in his later years, he never abandoned realism and was unmoved by the current art movements such as Cubism, Expressionism and the like. Julian instead incorporated some of these techniques into his realistic works.

Art historian and award-winning author Phyllis Settacase Barton wrote of Ritter:
Julian Ritter painting in his Studio on Edgewater Way


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.


Christine Ritter reflects on her father's work