Ida Ritter was the daughter of Max Meir Lauinger and his wife Minna, née Ehrmann. She grew up as one of three sisters in Nuremberg and studied at the Vereinigte Staatsschulen für Freie und Angewandte Kunst in Berlin (United State Schools for Fine and Applied Art) with Karl Hofer, among others. In 1935 she married the actor and writer Fritz Ritter and began making a living as a graphic designer and illustrator.
As a Jewish artist, her professional opportunities in Germany were severely limited after 1933, and after emigrating first to the Bahamas and then to the USA, she only managed to establish herself as an artist to a limited degree.
Although the painting is undated, the contrasting colors and expressive brushstrokes evince Karl Hofer’s influence during Ritter’s years as a student in Berlin. Other examples from the early work testify to her investigation into French painting, for instance Cézanne and Matisse.
Fritz Ritter, who began calling himself Frederick after arriving in the US, was a Viennese-born actor who first performed in Munich. Later, in Berlin, he was part of the ensemble for the world premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s "Threepenny Opera." From 1933 to 1938, due to the professional ban on Jews, he was only allowed to take part in performances put on by the Kulturbund Deutscher Juden. In the US, he found work as a teacher in Kentucky and Iowa, and later as a professor of German studies in Chicago.
During her years in Berlin, Ida Ritter designed numerous commercial graphic works in the form of posters, advertising brochures, and book covers. The gouache depicted above is a cover design for the popular illustrated book, which was published in several editions throughout the 1920s. It’s unknown whether this design was ever realized.
In the years following 1933, it became increasingly difficult for Ida Ritter to make a living from her art and graphic design work. Her illustrations for the CV-Zeitung, a Jewish weekly newspaper published throughout Germany, remained one reliable source of income. Her drawings for theater performances and other works were published here.
Emigration to the Bahamas
In the summer of 1939, Fritz and Ida Ritter emigrated to the Bahamas with the intention of continuing on to the US as quickly as possible. Their plans, however, were dashed by the outbreak of the war. At the time, the social structure of the Bahamas, where the former British King Edward VIII resided as governor, was still largely shaped by colonialism. Since the Ritters belonged neither to the predominantly wealthy European upper class nor to the overwhelmingly Black majority population, they found themselves stuck in the middle and in a precarious position. Fritz Ritter gave private lessons in Latin in Nassau, while Ida Ritter contributed to their income by teaching painting and performing odd jobs, such as creating murals for bars.
It wasn’t until 1944 that they were allowed entry to the US, where they remained through 1968 until retiring in Switzerland, where Adi Ritter died in 1975.
In the USA
In America, Ida Ritter developed an eclectic style that incorporated a broad spectrum of sensibilities. While her paintings in Germany were mainly influenced by Expressionism and French Modernism, elements of Cubism and Surrealism as well as contemporary abstract art emerged in American exile. As an artist, she was always, however, extremely keen to experiment and try out new techniques and ways of articulating images.
In her first few years in the US, she worked as an art teacher at various schools. After her husband found a secure job, she continued her practice as a fine artist, took part in several exhibitions, and traveled often to Mexico to paint. The motifs in Ida Ritter’s paintings are highly diverse: in addition to landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and images of animals, there are also numerous pictures that address philosophical and political themes.
From a letter by Fritz (Frederick) Ritter dated September 4, 1964.
"She’s an old lady now, but her zeal for painting is stronger than ever. She dreams of a new kind of painting that doesn’t yet exist, and she’ll take what she paints today and scrape it off tomorrow. (. . .) Well, maybe one day she really will make the painting she’s been dreaming of. I want it to happen very soon. . ."
Ida Ritter’s prints constitute the most extensive and perhaps most important part of her artistic oeuvre. She worked in a wide variety of techniques—lithography, etching, screen printing, and woodcut—and produced the artist prints herself in her small printing workshop, experimenting with different color combinations and levels of brightness. Her earliest surviving etching depicts a view of Sanary-sur-Mer.
This color lithograph is a fine example of Ritter’s joy in experimentation. The hues—in this case red, orange, and brown—are different in other prints, which are composed of blue, gray, or yellow tones, completely changing the overall effect of the picture.
In this screen print, Ida Ritter depicted the skyline of a city reflected in the water below. The print was probably made in Chicago, where she lived from the mid-1950s on. Like most of her work, this picture is undated.
This lithograph, which depicts children playing with kites, is reminiscent of the reduced, abstract quality of line in Paul Klee’s works. Children are common elements in Ida Ritter’s pictures, having taught art in various schools in the United States.
This screen print, which at first glance might be mistaken for a woodcut, illustrates the artist’s great love for animals. Her sketches include numerous depictions of animals in zoos and on farms, but her dozens of drawings of cats stand out most.