Born in Hamburg, Germany, Julian Ritter immigrated to the U.S. in 1924. His interest in drawing was encouraged by his teacher at school and by Schnars-Alquist, a recognized German seascape and ship painter living nearby. Julian traveled from New York to Philadelphia to Chicago before finally settling in Los Angeles in 1930. While in Chicago, Julian began to take a serious interest in art. He audited night classes at the Chicago Art Institute with Dr. Schroeder. He later won a scholarship to Art Center School in Los Angeles. Under the tutelage of Stanley Reckless, who studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Art and taught in the tradition of Frank Duveneck and the Munich School, Julian was introduced to figure painting. Classical study of human anatomy and the use of live models was the rule.
After graduation, in 1932, Julian found work at the film studios, doing portraits and backgrounds for movie sets for Warner Brothers, MGM, Paramount and Universal. On a visit to San Francisco, he was hired to produce murals for the Golden Gate International Exhibition of 1939. He continued to freelance and painted portraits of prominent California people.
In 1941, Julian exhibited at the Gallery of Modern Art, and at the Newhouse Galleries in New York City. Both exhibitions were highly acclaimed. The Art News (March 15, 1941) wrote: "His style shows fluency and ease" and Arts Digest (November 15, 1941): "Ritter is more than versatile, he is complex, exceptionally talented."
In 1945, Julian returned to Los Angeles and began his most prolific period. Regularly working ten to twelve hours a day, Julian became known for the fine craftsmanship of his nude studies and clowns. Collectors acquired Julian’s throughout the West, particularly in Southern California, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.
After the death of his wife in 1966, Julian fulfilled his boyhood dream; sailing his own boat, the Galilee, on a long Pacific cruise, sketching and painting along the way. His three-year voyage was climaxed by a nearly fatal ninety days adrift at sea, forty-nine without food. This experience gave him profound, new insights into himself and life. "Your mind becomes keener as you become hungrier," he wrote. "It gets sharper than ever before. You cleanse yourself of past mistakes and you realize that nature gave you facilities that you have misused."
Upon his return to California, Julian set to work on an entire new series of paintings. Many were mystical in nature. Others were the story of his voyage, and some were the experiences he and his companions suffered. He lived in Santa Barbara, California from 1966-1985 when he moved to Maui, Hawaii.