Karl Bitter

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For the German minister of finance and writer on music, see Karl Hermann Bitter.
Karl Bitter
Karl Bitter portrait, published in 1917.jpg
Karl Bitter in 1907.
Born Karl Theodore Francis Bitter
(1867-12-06)December 6, 1867
Died April 9, 1915(1915-04-09) (aged 47)
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[edit]

The son of Carl and Henrietta Bitter,[2] he was born and trained in Vienna. His early training took place at the 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, Kaffsack. This was the period that the Ringstraße was being built in Vienna, and a large number of decorated buildings were being built.

In 1889, while on leave from the army, he immigrated to the United States out of protest regarding military service during peacetime. 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]

Karl Bitter in 1905.

Upon arriving in New York City, Bitter 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 Thirteenth Street.[2]

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 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 in 1904-06 and 1909-11, and member of the Art Commission, New York, from 1912-15.[2][3]

Karl Bitter at work.

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 a tragic accident in 1915 when, while leaving the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a car jumped the curb 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.[5]

Architectural sculpture[edit]

East Doors and Tympanum, Trinity Church, New York (1891).

Monuments and other works[edit]

Detail of the Villard Memorial.

Selected funerary or cemetery works[edit]



  1. ^ http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/karl-theodore-francis-bitter-papers-8889
  2. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg Homans, James E., ed. (1918). "Bitter, Karl Theodore Francis". The Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: The Press Association Compilers, Inc. 
  3. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Bitter, Karl Theodore Francis". Encyclopedia Americana. 
  4. ^ a b "Karl Bitter's Statuary on St. Paul Building May Be Offered Austria, Which Exiled Him", The New York Times. December 2, 1957. Page 24. Retrieved March 15, 2011.
  5. ^ "Karl Bitter Studio at The Castle". Weehawken Time Machine. 
  6. ^ http://www.lindamann.com/otherpainters/bitter/default.htm
  7. ^ http://www.philart.net/art.php?id=435
  8. ^ http://www.forestparkstatues.org/#/thomas-jefferson/
  9. ^ "Art Inventories Catalog: Kasson Memorial, (sculpture).". si.edu. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 

Further reading[edit]