Karl Bitter

For the German minister of finance and writer on music, see Karl Hermann Bitter.
Karl Bitter

Karl Bitter in 1907.
Born Karl Theodore Francis Bitter
(1867-12-06)December 6, 1867
Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, Vienna, Austria
Died April 9, 1915(1915-04-09) (aged 47)
Manhattan, New York City
Alma mater Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
Spouse(s) Marie Sherrill[1]

Karl Theodore Francis Bitter (December 6, 1867 – April 9, 1915) was an Austrian-born American sculptor best known for his architectural sculpture, memorials and residential work.

Life and career

Karl Bitter in 1905
Manhattan studio that Bitter shared with Giuseppe Moretti

The son of Carl and Henrietta Bitter,[2] he was born in the municipal district Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus of Vienna. His early training took place at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule (the imperial school for the applied arts), and after that at the Kunstakademie (the Academy of Fine Arts). At the Academy, he studied with August Kühne and Edmund Heller.[3] Upon his graduation, he was apprenticed to an architectural sculptor, Joseph Kaffsack. This was the period that the Ringstraße was being built in Vienna, and a large number of decorated buildings were being built.

He was drafted into the Austrian Army, and deserted while on leave. He was unable to return to Austria for many years because of his desertion. He later was pardoned by Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, who hoped to lure the famous sculptor back to Vienna.[4]

Bitter immigrated to the United States in 1889, arriving in New York City. He applied for citizenship, and set to work as an assistant with a firm of house decorators. While employed with this firm, he competed for the Astor memorial bronze gates of Trinity Church and won, being but 21 years of age at the time. The work gave him sufficient capital to build and establish a small studio on 13th Street.[2]

Bitter modeled seated statues of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to flank the entrance to the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio (1909-11). He portrayed the men in early middle age, as in the 1780s when they clashed over what kind of nation the United States should become. Missouri commissioned a copy of Jefferson (1913), and Bitter made minor alterations to portray Jefferson as he looked as President when he signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty in 1803. For the commission from the University of Virginia, Bitter aged Jefferson further, portraying him as he looked in retirement.[5]

About this time, Bitter was discovered by Richard Morris Hunt, the architect of choice of many of New York's rich and famous. From that time on Bitter was never without work. After working as a sculptor at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and as director at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901, Bitter's extraordinary organizational skills led him to be named head of the sculpture programs at both the 1904 St. Louis Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, where Lee Lawrie trained with his guidance, and the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco, California. In 1906/1907, he presided over the National Sculpture Society.

Among the awards won by Bitter were the silver medal of the Paris Exposition, 1900; the gold medal of the Pan-American Exposition, 1901; a gold medal at Philadelphia, 1902; and the gold medal at the St. Louis Exposition, 1904. He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Sciences, vice-president (1906–08 and 1914–15); the National Academy of Design, to which he was elected in 1902; the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Players' Club, Century Club, and vice-president of the Architectural League from 1904 to 1906 and from 1909 to 1911, and member of the Art Commission, New York, from 1912 to 1915.[2][3]

Although Bitter arose out of the Classical/Naturalist styles he was increasingly turning towards a more modern approach to sculpture. Much of the work in Buffalo and St. Louis was allegorical in nature. Where this would have taken him will never be known, because he was killed in an accident in 1915 when, while leaving the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a car jumped the curb on Broadway and struck him down. His wife survived the accident as he had pushed her out of the way of the oncoming car.[2]

Like many of the sculptors and painters of the day, Bitter frequently employed the services of the muse and history's first "super model", Audrey Munson. On 30 June 1901, he married Marie A. Sherrill, of Cincinnati, Ohio. They had three children: Francis T. R. Bitter, Marietta C. E. Bitter and John F. Bitter.[2] Their son Francis Bitter, born in 1902, became a prominent American physicist.

For a time, Bitter's studio was located in a building, known as The Castle in Weehawken, New Jersey. The Castle was created as a part of the Eldorado Amusement Park.[6]

Architectural sculpture

East doors and tympanum (1891), Trinity Church, New York
Joan of Arc (1895), Biltmore Estate, Ashville, North Carolina
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Note Bitter's portrait medallions on the spandrels above the arches, his caryatids at left, and the limestone blocks above the paired columns for his unexecuted sculpture groups.

Monuments and other works

Franz Sigel (1907), Riverside Park, New York City
Henry Villard Memorial (1904), Sleepy Hollow, New York




  1. http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/karl-theodore-francis-bitter-papers-8889
  2. 1 2 3 4 5  Homans, James E., ed. (1918). "Bitter, Karl Theodore Francis". The Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: The Press Association Compilers, Inc.
  3. 1 2  Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Bitter, Karl Theodore Francis". Encyclopedia Americana.
  4. 1 2 "Karl Bitter's Statuary on St. Paul Building May Be Offered Austria, Which Exiled Him", The New York Times. December 2, 1957. p. 24. Retrieved March 15, 2011.
  5. Schevill, pp. 52-53.
  6. "Karl Bitter Studio at The Castle". Weehawken Time Machine.
  7. Schevill, p. 26.
  8. http://www.lindamann.com/otherpainters/bitter/default.htm
  9. All Angels' Church Pulpit and Choir Rail, from Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  10. Monument to U.S. Regulars, from SIRIS.
  11. Lord John Somers, from SIRIS.
  12. Lord Mansfield, from SIRIS.
  13. Liberty Supported by the Law, from SIRIS.
  14. Wisconsin State Resources, from SIRIS.
  15. http://www.philart.net/art.php?id=435
  16. Dr. William Pepper, from SIRIS.
  17. Ensign Joseph C. Breckenridge Memorial, from SIRIS.
  18. Signing the Treaty, from SIRIS.
  19. Louisiana Purchase Group, from SIRIS.
  20. General Franz Sigel, from SIRIS.
  21. Dr. Burrill Angell, from SIRIS.
  22. Alexander Hamilton, from SIRIS.
  23. Thomas Jefferson, from SIRIS.
  24. http://www.forestparkstatues.org/#/thomas-jefferson/
  25. Thomas Jefferson, from SIRIS.
  26. Thomas Jefferson, from SIRIS.
  27. Thomas Jefferson, from SIRIS.
  28. President Tappan, from SIRIS.
  29. Carl Schurz Monument, from SIRIS.
  30. Carl Schurz Monument, from SIRIS.
  31. John Erastrus Hubbard Memorial, from Find-a-Grave.
  32. Villard Memorial, from SIRIS.
  33. Schevill, Ferdinand, ‘Karl Bitter: A Biography”, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1917 p. x
  34. Faded Flowers, Prehn Mausoleum, from SIRIS.
  35. Kasson Memorial, from SIRIS.
  36. Pulitzer Fountain, from SIRIS.
  37. Depew Memorial Fountain, from SIRIS.
  38. The Signing of the Treaty, from SIRIS.
  39. Henry Hudson Memorial, from SIRIS.

Further reading

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