Skip navigation

Santa Barbara - 1957 to 1968

After nearly a year in Mexico, 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.

Howard Morseburg (gallery owner) remembers

I was a traveling salesman basically, who took up selling art in the late fifties, a few years before I met Julian. At first, I'd buy only one piece at a time, a couple of times a year. But I spent a lot of time on the road and developed customers from Idaho to Arizona. I probably sold Julians to forty or fifty galleries at one time or another. By 1963, I was buying four or five paintings each time I'd visit, five or six times a year.
I'd go up to Julian's house, bringing a bottle of wine. Rumor had it that Julian was easier to bargain with if he had a few drinks. I finally figured out, though, that it was a rumor Julian started himself, as a way to get free wine. The prices never went down.    So we'd have a couple of glasses of wine, and then look at his pictures. He'd ask one price, I'd offer another, he'd whine. He'd offer to throw another one in for a little more, I'd make him a counter-offer, he'd call me a crook.

So we'd haggle back and forth until one of us gave into the other, and settled on a price. Then he'd try to get a little more. Even after I'd paid him $1000 or $2000, and had the paintings in the car, he'd be out there in the driveway wanting another goodie, trying to beat me out of a ten-dollar frame or something. He had to get one more thing out of me for nothing.

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". John is remembered in the memoir "Bachelor in Paradise" as "The Dutch [sic] carpenter who cooked like a Frenchman.") 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.

About 1962, Angela became senile - the result of dementia from advanced Parkinson's disease. She could no longer care for herself so Julian put her into a nursing home in Santa Barbara.

Michael Ritter on the losses

We visited Angela frequently. They weren't long visits, and they became sort of pointless. Grandma couldn't recognize anyone or respond to conversation. I think we were all relieved when she died because her trauma was over, but we were reluctant to talk about it. My mother was dying at the same time.
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."