Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Journey to Julian's Last Las Vegas Painting

Jan 19, 2017
by Greg Autry

Early 1984 as I recall now, I came up with an idea for a painting that I proposed to Julian, and he was very enthusiastic about. It was a bit of a `spin' on some of his early works. A Clown, with Showgirls.  Truly, the nudes and showgirls were not what Julian painted in 1984, when he painted for himself. But like any artist who makes a living selling his art, he painted what the clientele wanted.

I was like so many others, as I was enamored with the gorgeous lushness of his nudes and showgirls. The paintings that had made him famous, since painting The Silver Slipper Collection beginning in 1950's, for the Las Vegas Mob, were still what his clients clamored for.  But truly by this time, Julian rarely if ever had a real passion about doing nudes. He could churn them out without much thought or regard. Too often, these later paintings show that disregard.

The Conductor II - 1983
Original Oil painting by Julian Ritter
 My idea was to dress up as a clown myself, and to have a whole bevy of Showgirls around me. My own fantasies of Showgirls, Vegas Glamour, and the sensual sexuality of all that Julian's works conjured up for me, would be encapsulated in this one painting. As I described it to Julian, sitting in his studio on Torito Road one Sunday, he began to draw sketches with conte crayons on a roll of vellum. He rapidly drew sketch after sketch, tearing off the paper and dropping one, then another, onto the floor as I talked.

Greg as the Clown Figure in the Las Vegas Fantasy
Original oil painting by Julian Ritter
When I remarked, amazed, at how fast he could draw as though he was not looking at what he was doing, he laughed heartily and said, `I'm just a fucking wonder!' Then he took a big gulp of the Brandy in a glass on the floor beside his chair and said watch this.  He proceeded to tear off a sheet of the vellum and put it on his board, to which he then sat his board on the floor in front of him where he sat, facing me in a chair opposite.

Janet Boyd Showgirl figure in The Las Vegas Fantasy
Original oil paintings by Julian Ritter
He took a piece of the conte and without looking at the board, upside down, and backwards, he looked directly at me while he sketched  two perfect nude female figures. Still looking at me, with my mouth agape, he laughed again, took another big swig on the brandy. That, 5 minute, exhibition is something I will ever forget in my lifetime.

`Teressa' - Showgirl figure in The Las Vegas Fantasy
Original oil painting by Julian Ritter
We talked more about the posing, and finally agreed on a study sketch as the basis for the painting. The sketch had two showgirls, I then I decided it needed more girls. We agreed there would be four Showgirls, and me, as a clown. Five Figures. We negotiated a price, well I should say, we haggled about a price.  Julian loved the bantering about prices and making the deal, almost as much as he loved doing the painting. Julian knew I could afford it, and no doubt I paid a little more than I might have. But I was truly happy and wanted him to do a great job, and most importantly as an artist myself I know how important it is that artists feel's their work is truly appreciated.

We agreed to hire four Showgirls from Las Vegas, and bring them to Julian's studio in Summerland, for Julian to draw and work on the painting. Julian's first suggestion, which was a mandate actually, was for me to hire Janet Boyd as one of the models.

`Ronnie' - Showgirl figure in The Las Vegas Fantasy
Original oil painting by Julian Ritter
Julian had in his studio the iconic Portrait of Janet, at the time I met him. The first thing I did when I saw that painting was to ask Julian if I could buy it, which Julian declined, and would decline continually. I didn't understand Julian's relationship with Janet at that time, all I knew was that she was a megastar showgirl. Julian gave me her address and phone number.  I was actually too intimidated to call her, so I wrote her a letter, telling her about the project and asking to meet with her. 

`Helen' - Showgirl figure in The Las Vegas Fantasy
Original oil painting by Julian Ritter
The painting that Julian would do, would be the now Iconic `Las Vegas Fantasy.' It would in fact be that last painting Julian would ever go to Las Vegas to do.  And I will tell that story, and more about Julian and Janet, next time.

I continue to work on my book about The Life and Art of Julian Ritter. Research is never ending, and I continually discover new things I want to include. I need a good editor at this point to start going through it, looking at format, and culling it down perhaps. Stay tuned !

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


by Greg Autry   --  Jan 10, 2017 

In early 1950 Julian went to Las Vegas for the first time, and made a Sale of 13 paintings, which would be the first installment of `The Silver Slipper Collection.'  The Silver Slipper Casino, over the next eighteen years Julian would add to the collection through various owners, as well as paint untold numbers of paintings for Dealers, Patrons, and Mob Bosses throughout the town.

Entry Piece - Silver Slipper Casino
`Las Vegas Follies' by Julian Ritter
48 x 72 -  Oil on Masonite
circa 1950


Entry Piece - Silver Slipper Casino
`Lady of the Evening' by Julian Ritter
42 x 58 -  Oil on Masonite
circa 1950

The first thirteen paintings in the collection were of nudes and showgirls. Moe Dalitz and Benny Binion were instrumental in the collection. Instructing Julian to paint Nudes worthy of a first class Parisian Bordello.

Portraits of Lil St Cyr , by Julian Ritter, circa 1950, Oil on Masonite, 
Originally part of the Silver Slipper Collection. Private Collection

Interior Silver Slipper Casino - Circa 1955
Julian's paintings on the far side wall. 
Photo courtesy of Scott Fawcet

In what would become known as his `Salon Nudes,' Julian embarked on paintings of Showgirls, Clowns, and Nudes, which would become the bane, and the hallmark , of his career.  As had happened in bars and bordellos before, and would happen in the future, his paintings garnered such incredible response from the public and art patrons, so as to cause crowds and response beyond what the various establishments were prepared for.

`Riding in the Red Surrey' by Julian Ritter
22 x 27 -  Oil on Masonite 
circa 195o's 

The Original `Mr. Whimsey' Series
                     Left - `The Clown Photographer'                     Right -  `Mr. Whimsey'
                         39 x 30  Oil on Masonite                            39 x 30  Oil on Masonite

Never had the public seen such lively, vivid, and overt sensuality on display. Crowds lined the Silver Slipper Casino during the days, and everyone wanted a painting by the flamboyant artist. Cooks, and hat check girls, not to mention the Showgirls and Performers. Julian took special interest when `girls' approached him with special request.

`Portrait of a Redhead' by Julian Ritter
20 x 16 oval  -  Oil on Masonite 
circa 195o's 

At the same time, it was the Pit Bosses, the Dealers, and the ribald assortment of `Family' members who would monopolize a great deal of Julian's time and efforts. Their "request" were more than simple request, and Julian understood he must keep them "Happy."  Untold numbers of paintings remain in family treasures around the country. Three of the most famous painting were of portraits of Moe Dalitz, Doby Doc, and Benny Binion. The portrait of Doby Doc with his dog, hung in Benny Binion's office in the Horseshoe Casino, for many years, and is now part of a private collection, in Las Vegas.

Howard Hughes
Google Free Images

Beginning in 1966 with the Desert Inn, Howard Hughes began slew of Las Vegas acquisitions, which would ultimately oust the Mob from Vegas, as it had been known. Hughes last Casino acquisition was the Silver Slipper. Many rumored reasons why he bought the property are strictly that, rumors. Truth be told, Hughes believed the property's value lie in its proximity to other properties and he saw great future value in that.

It was also a money maker and garnered a steady income stream. But when Hughes "people" made the purchase, they failed to clearly secure the rights to the paintings that had been done by Julian over the years, and which still hung inside the Slipper and by now, were in fact what added the real world character to the Casino.  Hughes had to go to court to fight the "Sellers" and to argue that the Paintings, were in fact , part of the "furnishing."

~ 1968 Las Vegas Newspaper Article
announcing Julian Ritter's trip to Las Vegas
to evaluate the Silver Slipper Collection 

What turned out to be the deciding factor, was the fact that the "Owners" had ill-advisedly "screwed" the painting in their frames onto the walls of the casino, rather than "hang" the art work in a traditional manner. Julian , along with Bernie Schantz, were called to Las Vegas  to testify as to the value of the collection, and Hughes was awarded the collection in full. Although, he did have to pay some restitution.

Archive image of the Silver Slipper from Google Free Images - Circa 195o's

Note that Julian's trip to testify about the collection, came only a month, after he returned from the ill fated voyage aboard the `Galilee,' being rescued after 89 days lost at sea.  The Silver Slipper Collection remained a part of the history and lore of the old Silver Slipper Casino, until the time the Casino was last sold and then demolished.  I purchased the Silver Slipper Collection, from the Summa Corporation,  after Howard Hughes' estate was settled, and retain the collection today.

`Suzie' by Julian Ritter
17 x 11 -  Oil on Masonite 
circa 195o's 

`Untitled' by Julian Ritter
~~ 30 x 48 -  Oil on Masonite 
circa 195o's 
Not on Public Display. Found Stashed in Howard Hughes' private Vault Room. 

I would be very interested in finding an appropriate venue, to do a show and exhibition of the Collection.  Contact me if you are interested.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

1939 Golden Gate International Exposition

January 5, 2017

Julian Ritter’s Ninety Foot Mural
By Greg Autry

In 1939 the Golden Gate International Exposition opened on February 18th, on a manmade mudflat island in San Francisco Bay, called Treasure Island. The `Theme’ of the overall Fair was “Pageant of the Pacific.” It would come to be called “The Magic City,” and lasted for only two seasons. The Great Expo was intended to celebrate the opening of the recently completed, Golden Gate Bridge and The Bay Bridge, which were to bring great revelations to San Francisco. The Buildings of the Expo were monumental, reminiscent of the `White City’ of Chicago’s World Fair held in 1893. At night the building were lit in multi-colors and could be seen a hundred miles away.

Julian Ritter painting a Mural for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. 
From the Julian Ritter Estate Archives. 

In the 1930’s, the `WPA' (Works Progress Administration), or the `Second New Deal’ would also act to provide jobs to the great many unemployed workers throughout the Country.  The `Federal Project Number One’   employed  artists, writers,  musicians, actors, and directors from around the country, instituted with the intent of getting America back on the road to financial well-being after a decade of suffering the greatest financial  Depression in the country’s history.  The WPA would interact with State and local agencies nationwide, to implement large Arts Programs. Applications from artists were received in the thousands, from around the country.

Julian was out of work in 1938 with little or no prospects. When Julian needed money, he would  load a bunch of paintings into his car and head to art galleries to peddle his wares. Thus was the method which began several successful relationships with Galleries in San Francisco, and a `Peddler’  Julian always remained. He is also aware of all the hype and publicity surrounding the upcoming Golden Gate International Exposition to be held on San Francisco's Treasure Island and he definitely intended to seek out opportunities. Although he did not know how he would do so.

In its infancy, the American Scene Movement is a somewhat depressing, albeit realistic, view of working class Americans. Fueled by Prohibition and the Great Depression, the gaiety and frivolity of the 1920's had long given way to lives of hardship, self doubt, and a preponderance of despair.  This background, magnifying the harsh realities of Julian's upbringing and early childhood, makes it hard to imagine anything but dark emotionally depressing figures emanating from Julian's imagination around that time.

American Scene Painting, was intended to convey a sense of nationalism and romanticism about everyday life in 1930’s America, from small town and rural America, to the big cities. Some consider the American Scene Movement, as a precursor to `Modernism’. Painting Murals, in buildings and Expositions, was coming into vogue as a helpful way to employ artists. Many artists were being influenced by the likes of Fresco Muralist Diego Rivera. Rivera became known for making political statements in Fresco’s, painted in the perfect spaces for such statements, public buildings!

Julian was young, full of life, and confident in his abilities. Never afraid of hard work, Julian took pride in his working class nature and background. Beverly Hills architect Mark Daniels, is in charge of the "Mines, Minerals, and Machinery Building,” at the GGIE. Julian jumps at the opportunity to paint a major statement piece when offered by Mark Daniels. Daniels is impressed with Julian’s repertoire of paintings and pen and ink sketches when the two first meet. 
Julian never applied to the State, nor to the WPA, as an artist, however though Mark Daniels a Purchase Order is issued in December of 1938 to `Julian Ritter,’ by the `STATE OF CALIFORNIA-BUREAU OF PURCHASES’ which states as a scope of work;

`To furnish complete, install and in place on Treasure Island in the Building known as “Mines, Metals and Machinery Building”, a minimum of 1,000 square feet of murals depicting the mining industry in the United States.  All work including sketches and finished murals, are subject to approval by the California Commission for the Golden Gate International Exposition.'   

Julian immediately likes Daniels because he is `hands on' and not afraid to “get in and get dirty.” Daniels likes Julian's wit, and quick understanding of the process. Julian works diligently on paper sketches and painting color studies for the various figures he envisions. Julian works to incorporate Daniel’s ideas and themes, with his own sense of Spirit and Daniels likes how amazingly fast and accurate Julian's drawings are, and is amazed at the number of paintings Julian turns out as `Color Study’s.’

Some of the Studies were as large as 36 x 24 inches, masterfully painted, and would remain in Julian’s private collection for years; Julian unwilling to part with them until that is financial necessity required selling them.

24 x 36 Study, Oil Painting by Julian Ritter, titled `Steel Worker,'  Private Collection.

An artist himself, and a highly successful architect, Daniels sees Julian's work as more than just superb draughtsmanship. As the mural unfolds in paint, he recognizes the true Genius of Julian Ritter.  Julian would only have two months to do preliminary sketches, paint some studies to get color palette and details approved, and to complete the mural. When completed it was over 10 feet tall and almost one-hundred feet long.   At this time there are no photos of the actual mural which have been found. There is one photo from a newspaper article at the time seen above, depicting Julian at work, painting the mural. One study painting [above] has been located in a private collection, which was sold by Julian in 1948. 
For the mural, judging by the little available evidence now we see that Julian created  figures of strong, hard, rugged working men in the great industries which would define the USA in the first half of the Twentieth century. Rather than portraying the resentfulness of the hard times as so many other American Scene muralists, Julian's figures are infused with men, happy to be working and swelled with that camaraderie that groups of workers, and teams of men come to understand. There is an emotional uplift is Julian's work and Architect Mark Daniels see’s the Spirit of Julian's soul transfused into his work. Mark Daniel's was also a man of distinction. With their working relationship blossoming, Daniels gave Julian additional jobs to paint for the exposition, as well as introducing him to prominent people in San Francisco, people who came to buy more of Julian’s paintings.

It was reported that all of the Art on Display at the `GoldenGate International Exposition would amount to $ 20,000,000.00.  Whether accurate or not, the Exposition was instrumental in propelling Julian into the ranks of commercial free lance professional artist.  The 1939 GGIE would result directly and indirectly to Julian’s success and the spread of his name and his work, throughout the United States.

Because of his `Mural' for the Exposition he also got similar work for restaurants, hospitals, and even real estate offices. Although there is scant record today, he is known to have produced murals, and wall paintings, for several San Francisco hotels of an illicit nature. Bordellos in North Beach were common [see STORY about Bimbo's 365 Club.] 

After Julian’s participation in the 1939 GGIE, he was offered and accepted two shows in New York City. In 1941 Julian made his New York City debut at The Newhouse Gallery, as well as The Gallery of Modern Art.
The original Fair had opened February 18, 1939, and would ultimately close September 29, 1940. The Fair’s theme, emphasizing unity between Pacific nations, would last no longer than the Fair itself.  It had been planned that the Fairgrounds would become a part of the “new” San Francisco airport after the Fair closed, however world events would intervene and the US Navy would take over the land and buildings as part of the upcoming war effort, building a large presence on the island, along with the new Alameda Naval Shipyard. Julian would spend the war years, in the US Army, where he would ultimately marry his first love, Hilde.

Jan 2017, The Main Administration Building on Treasure Island.
The only remaining building from the Great 1939 Exposition. 

Today, both the Fair Grounds on Treasure Island and the Navy Shipyard in Alameda are abandoned. There remains only one, `Main, Administration Building’ from the ’39 Expo, still standing on Treasure Island. While it is nearly abandoned, it does offer a glimpse into the ornate grandeur of the past.

 Jan 2017 - Interior of the `Main Administration Building' on Treasure Island. 

Jan 2017 -  The Bay Bridge and City of San Francisco, seen from Treasure Island.

There is proposed new housing and related commercial development for Treasure Island, with hopes and promises, of resurrecting the `Administration Building’ as a living Museum. And surely, somewhere, there are photographs to be found, of Julian’s work at the Fair, as well as more study paintings by Julian to be discovered.

*Photo of Julian Painting at the 1939 GGIE from Newspaper Article in the Julian Ritter Estate Archives. The Artists Estate retains all copyrights to the original image.