Julian Ritter Biography (1909 - 2000)


By Greg Autry ©2015


He was an Artist of Worldwide acclaim. Revered by those who loved his work, reviled by those he shunned. Born in 1909 he spent much of his childhood around the docks in Hamburg, drawing, and dreaming  of sailing the seas.  He immigrated  from Germany to New York in 1924 and attended the Chicago Art Institute briefly.  Julian graduated from Art Center, in Los Angeles, in 1932. He began showing his art in LA while still a student.  In 1939 he was hired to paint a 90' mural for the Mines and Minerals Building, at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.  By 1941 he was showing  at the prestigious  Gallery of Modern Art  and Newhouse Gallery in New York City.. Although ill suited in personality for the sophisticated New York Art scene his work was admired and  very well received by the critics and public alike.


He was prolific. Extraordinary as a draughtsman and colorist with a flair for the dramatic.  His early work demonstrated a style of rich vibrant color and swift purposeful brushwork. His later works would develop a Masters touch of glazing skin tones for woman that created a luminosity not seen since the Masters of the Great Renaissance.   Julian was an outgoing, vibrant man who had a passion for art, and a zest for life. Those who knew him spoke of his Presence.  His studio always smelled of Turpentine and Paint , along with wafting pipe smoke, and often cheap perfume of a naked model.  Mozart always played on his turntable.  This vibrant personality was a shield for the man who had little trust for others  and who had only two Loves in his lifetime.


The 1950's would see a remarkable string of work produced. Hired to produce work for multiple venues and Galleries throughout the United States.  Showing at the Swiss Chalet Gallery  at the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago, Julian attends the Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus, and is inspired to start the Mr. Whimsy Clown series.  He is hired to paint a Nautical theme of Mermaids and King Neptune, including a 30' wall mural, at the Bimbos 365 Club, in San Francisco.  The paintings and mural are still there, today. A trip to Mexico mid-decade saw a preponderance of masterful landscapes and portraits of the local people whom he grew to love. What would set the tone for the rest of his career, a Gay 90's themed series of paintings, which would become the Silver Slipper Collection, was created over years and  hung at The Silver Slipper Casino and Gambling Hall, in Las Vegas from 1950 until 1988. Throughout his lifetime his paintings have been shown in hundreds, perhaps  thousands, of Galleries around the world.  In 1963 his painting `Bachelor Housekeeping' became a part of the Permanent Collection at the famed de Young Museum in San Francisco.


Raised in depravation amongst `drunks and whores' Julian always had a fondness for the poor and the near-do-wells of the world. He disdained those of wealth and success, the very people he most needed to support his life as an artist. He professed he was" just a whore" for selling his work.


Julian had several lovers during his lifetime. Physically strong with disarming charm, he had a passionate fire and sexual drive. He had only two women in his life, that he truly loved beyond all else.   Hilde Sabena  Meyer-Radon and Julian were married  in April 1943, while he served in the US Army.  Hilde and Julian would have two children, Christine 1947, and Michael 1948. Hilde inspired Julian, but in 1966 the unthinkable happened. After two years suffering with Cancer, Hilde passed away.   Julian was distraught and could not comprehend his loss. He became a shut-in and a drunk.


Over a year went by, Julian  began to recount his childhood dreams to sail the world, and paint.  Pulled out of  nightmarish depression he began painting to raise money for his new adventure.  He sold the Santa Barbara home he and Hilde had bought, to buy a 45' Yawl, The Galilee.  One last commission would secure the funds he needed to start his trip. That Commission was for Adele Kokx, for whom Julian painted a portrait of  Adele's daughter, an introverted yet  beguilingly beautiful  17 year old, Laurie Kokx.  Julian and Laurie developed a camaraderie and connection in their short time of portrait settings. 


In  February 1968 Julian (59)  set the Sails of The Galilee Southward from Santa Barbara. Months later, in Acapulco after trading paintings for  food and board, as well as booze and women, the bar owner  was irritated at the attention the murals received in lieu of her "girls". When Julian could not pay her upon demand, he was thrown into jail. Julian called the only number he could find, Laurie Kokx.  The headstrong Laurie persuaded one of Julian's Patrons to provide his private plane and crew to fly her to Mexico to bail Julian out of the Mexican jail.


In Acapulco Laurie announced she would sail with Julian around the world. Laurie was mesmerized by his strong virile presence and over-the-top personality. She admired his confidence and creativity, they became lovers and soul mates sailing the seas. They would sail to Costa Rica where they would spend time, Julian painting and Laurie preparing for the next leg of the journey.  Laurie blossomed in an unbridled burst of hormones and youth. Julian drank in her flower and was emboldened. All who saw them together thought how they truly loved each other.  After six months in Puntarenas they embarked on the next leg of the adventure, sailing West to French Polynesia and the Society Islands. 


They spent a year in the Tahitian Islands, all the while Julian was painting and sending  work home for shows on the Mainland. He and Laurie were Gay and free to do as they dreamed. He works sold out consistently, and he was asked for more and more paintings.  Julian amassed a large portfolio of exquisitely painted  works he saved to take home himself.  In June of 1970, Julian and Laurie, along with a young German crewmate, set sail for Hawaii. Revived with Laurie's companionship and love, Julian had made peace with Hilde's passing.  The Galilee would head out for the last leg and the most arduous part of their journey from Puntarenas bound for Honolulu. Within weeks trouble developed, and soon the Galilee was in distress.  Battered and beaten by a strong storm, mast broken , and all electronic equipment aboard disabled, the crew drifted for 89 days. The last 49 days, with little or no food or water.  Miraculously,  literally hours before death, they were spotted and rescued by the supply ship, USS Niagara Falls, and taken to Honolulu. Sadly most of the paintings were lost  in the storm. 


After a month in Hawaii, Laurie and Julian would fly home and begin their life together in Santa Barbara. Settling in Summerland where Julian would paint and greet his patrons and customers.  Laurie thrived for awhile, encouraging Julian to paint about his visions while Lost at Sea.  Julian would undergo a resurgence in his work,  painting with deep passion personal works of his Visions, and his transcendence from deaths door. Julian's biggest despair was  the affects the  trip had on Laurie. Upon rescue, Dr. Phillip Becker would give no status as to "the girl". Later, he  declared Laurie had been only a couple of hours from death, and was indeed fortunate to have survived. 


Demand for Julian's work continued to soar.  Julian declared himself  "done" with Dealers and Galleries, intending to sell only to his own customers and patrons.  The Galleries wanted his work even more. Some renowned galleries resorted to forging work and signing his name.  Long before the marketing of "signed limited editions" came into vogue, International Art Publishing signed an exclusive deal to reproduce several of his nudes and clowns in large prints.  Gorman Ceramics Company paid him handsomely to reproduce several works as Collector plates  and Statuary.  And his fame from the Silver Slipper Collection grew still, with the theft of a painting from the Silver Slipper, and later, with Howard Hughes in litigation, in part,  over the Silver Slipper Art Collection.


In 1972 while attending a Gallery show in Las Vegas, Julian was taken with a tall lanky redhead, who introduced herself as a Showgirl at the Silver Slipper.  Janet Boyd , would become Muse and Model for Julian and would pose for a "Big Portrait" and Julian's renaissance of Las Vegas works began anew. `The Portrait of Janet'   is now the most Iconic  Showgirl painting in Las Vegas history. The gorgeous Showgirl would pose for Julian hundreds of times, including settings with her infant daughter Bianca.  in 1984 Janet would be instrumental in coordinating what would be Julian's last big Las Vegas painting, The Las Vegas Fantasy. A Commission piece featuring  four Showgirls and a Clown.


Julian continued painting his personal works from his memories aboard the Galilee as well as painting what his customers wanted, the Nudes, Clowns, and Showgirls.  He ultimately chose to rely on sales to a handful of patrons, and only one dealer he would trust, Howard Morseburg .  Over the years Laurie's condition would slowly deteriorate. She became lost in her own world, diminished in spirit and at a loss for Purpose.  Briefly, Laurie opened a Flower Shop in Summerland that seemed to uplift her.  But sadly, in the summer of 1984, Julian would discover her in coatis  with their Gardener. Julian devastated by her betrayal declared their relationship over.  He sold everything, including the amazing Torito Road  home and studio, in Summerland, and moved to Hawaii to live with his Son.


Upon moving to Maui, Julian spent the first seven months building a large and amazing two story studio to work in. The fates again clamored for Julian when in December of 1985 Julian suffered a massive stroke.  He would live for another 15 years. He tried, but never really painted after the stroke. He taught  classes as best he could, and sold a few paintings. He did make on trip with his nurse, to Las Vegas, to sell paintings to Nick Behnon and Becky Binion.  He spent most of his time reading and convalescing . His son Michael, would take care of his father dutifully until Julian passed away, March 4, 2000.  Laurie passed away mysteriously in 2006. After The Boat Trip aboard the Galilee, she cajoled Julian to paint, to keep him from drinking, and to create Purpose for him. In her own life thereafter, she could find no defense of the bottle, and no purpose to go on.   She would neither take care of herself, nor stop drinking.


Through a legacy of adventure, Julian pursued his passion for creating art and beauty at all cost. He shunned the " Big Time Art World ' to pursue his vision as an artist and to paint what he was called to create. In talent and in execution, one of the great artist of the Twentieth Century.


Julian Ritter. Artist.



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