Painter, printmaker, educator, and gallerist Chris Ritter (1906-1976), who made this large drawing I believe in the 1950s or so, was a fascinating character and important figure in the New York Postwar Avant-Garde scene, whose work is represented in the British Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the New York Public Library, and the Whitney Museum of American Art as well as many other collections. (More bio below.) I purchased this drawing in Ogunquit, Maine, where he lived and was an active community presence in his later years.
I believe this drawing was from a body of c. 1950s work inspired by ancient Cretian image, but am not certain of the exact source of this wounded fire breathing lion, Ritter's expressionistic treatment of which I find potent and poignant and tender. 20 1/2" x 13 5/8", pastel with some watercolor on heavyweight rag paper, with fixative sprayed on the surface to preserve it. Excellent condition, unsigned but stamped Estate of Jane Ritter (Ritter's wife, who died in 2006) on reverse. Shipped flat.
Bio, from The Annex Gallery, Santa Rosa, CA:
Chris Ritter was born on 9 December 1906 (most sources incorrectly cite 1908) in Iola, Kansas. He graduated with a B.A. from the University of Kansas at Lawrence where he was a pupil of Albert Bloch and Karl Mattern. He continued his studies at the Art Students’ League in New York from 1933-36 with Richard Lahey and George Grosz. Ritter also studied at Columbia University and at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art. During World War II, he was an illustrator for the Air Force while serving in the army.
Ritter became an important figure in the New York Postwar Avant-Garde scene. He opened the Laurel Gallery in New York at 108 East 57th Street in 1946 and began exhibiting works by avant-garde artists. In 1947 he mounted a show for artist Grace Borgenicht who became the Laurel Gallery co-director.
Like View Magazine, with which he seems to have been in some way associated, Ritter's work and his gallery explored the Surrealist sensibility transplanted from Europe and given new life as it came into contact with popular culture in the United States. The gallery published four “Laurels Portfolios” of prints, many of which were done by artists working in New York at S.W. Hayter’s Atelier 17. Ritter closed the Laurel Gallery in 1952 and Borgenicht opened a gallery on her own. The Grace Borgenicht Gallery opened on 57th Street in May 1951, with a show of Max Ernst's work. She continued to represent most of the artists that Laurel had worked with.
Ritter was also an instructor of art at Hunter College in New York City from 1939-41; at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1947; at Ballard School from 1947-53; and in Texas at the Midland Center for the Arts in 1954. He and his wife Jane retired to Ogunquit, Maine. Ritter was a member of the Ogunquit Art Association and served as president from 1957 to 1961.