The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Bitter, Karl Theodore Francis

The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Bitter, Karl Theodore Francis

BITTER, Karl Theodore Francis, sculptor, b. in Vienna, Austria, 6 Dec., 1867; d. in New York City, 9 April, 1915, son of Carl and Henrietta (Reitter) Bitter. After attending the gymnasium in his native city, where he was taught Latin and Greek, he entered the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, interested himself in liberal politics, and was finally expelled from the academy because of speeches objectionable to the authorities. When serving his time in the army he was persecuted by a lieutenant, and, finally, to escape persecution, deserted and fled to Halle, Germany, where he entered the studio of Kaffsack, the German sculptor. The Austrian government moved to seize young Bitter, but he learned of the proceedings and fled to America. He arrived in New York in 1889, applied for citizenship, and set to work as an assistant with a firm of house decorators. Here he worked with an earnestness and enthusiasm that attracted attention. While employed with this firm he competed for the Astor memorial bronze gates of Trinity Church and won. The best men in the country competed, and Mr. Bitter was but twenty-one years of age at the time. The work gave him sufficient capital to build and establish a small studio in Thirteenth Street, New York. It was about this time that he received an introduction to Richard Morris Hunt, an architect, who instantly took a liking to the young sculptor and his work. He was commissioned to make the sculptural decorations for the principal building at the Chicago World's Fair, the Administration Building, of which Mr. Hunt was the architect, and the Liberal Arts Building. Mr. Bitter was a believer in the union of architecture and sculpture; and for his work he won a medal that was well merited. Many commissions followed, of which those for George W. Vanderbilt's palatial residence at Biltmore, N. C., were perhaps the most important. In the banquet hall of this house is contained a carved English oak frieze, forty-five feet long, representing the Contest of the Minstrels. In the same hall, over the fireplace, there is another frieze in stone, representing the Return from the Chase. Besides these, there is also in this house the heroic statue of St. Louis and Jeanne d'Arc in stone, and a fountain group in bronze, representing Boy Stealing Geese, for the palm-garden. Mr. Bitter exhibited in public whenever he found an opportunity, and received recognition from the artistic profession by being elected a member of the National Sculpture Society, the National Academy, and the Society of American Artists. Thus his art progressed and developed. The beautiful pulpit and choir-rail in stone, made for All Angels' Church, in New York, is but one of the many instances of his versatility. When the Pan-American authorities applied to the National Sculpture Society for a director of their department of sculpture, Mr. Bitter was unanimously elected to fill that position. It was a high tribute to his art when the authorities, upon seeing his plans for the general scheme of decoration, increased the appropriation for this purpose from $30,000 to $250,000, which sum kept about thirty-five artists and more than 100 assistants busy for more than one year. At the Pan-American Exposition, though the great part played by Mr. Bitter as director naturally overshadowed the work of his own hand, no one who attended the exposition will forget his two spirited, colossal, equestrian statues that surmounted the bridge piers. In recognition of his labors as director of sculpture, he was awarded a special gold medal. His success with the Pan-American Exposition prompted the management of the St. Louis Exposition to obtain his services as director of sculpture, which added new laurels to his already considerable fame. He completed the cycle of his larger opportunities in his decoration of exposition buildings by serving as chief of the department of sculpture for the Panama Pacific Exposition at San Francisco. Another work which he finished in 1911 was the model of the figure of Henry Hudson, which was planned for the Hudson Monument on Spuyten Duyvil Hill. Mr. Bit- ter believed that sculpture should express the highest ideals of personal and national life; that the artist must be honest and uncompromising in his work, which should always aim to come as close to life as possible without being photographic. One needs but look at his monument to Chancellor Pepper, made for the University of Pennsylvania, to realize how true this is of his own work. Among other famous sculptures by his hand are the decorations for the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broad Street Station, in Philadelphia; the three colossal caryatids in stone, representing the white, the negro, and the Malay races, executed for the St. Paul Building, New York; an epic in bronze of that champion of liberty, Carl Schurz; the statue of Thomas Jefferson, at the University of Virginia; the Rockefeller Fountain at Pocantico Hills, N. Y.; the John G. Kasson memorial at Ithaca, N. Y.; the Thomas Prehn mausoleum in Passaic, N. J.; the Thomas Loury memorial, Minneapolis, Minn.; the memorial to Henry Villard over his grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery; the pediment and group at the State Capitol, Madison, Wis.; and the statue to Andrew D. White at Cornell University. Mr. Bitter held that art should interpret the spirit of an age rather than record the whims and vagaries of the moment, which result in pettiness. As an artist he fought steadily for freedom, for self-expression, and for high ideals. There is scarcely a city in the land but is adorned by the rhythmic strength of Mr. Bitter's sculpture. Among the awards won by Mr. Bitter were the silver medal of the Paris Exposition, 1900; the gold medal of the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, N. Y., 1901; a gold medal at Philadelphia, Pa., 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, 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. His useful career came to a sudden ending on 9 April, 1915, as the result of injuries received when he and his wife were struck by an automobile after leaving the Metropolitan Opera House. Mrs. Bitter owes her life to her husband, whose quick thought and courageous action threw her sidewise from the oncoming automobile. On 30 June, 1901, he married Marie A., daughter of Ferdinand A. Sherrill, of Cincinnati, Ohio. They had three children: Francis T. R. Bitter, Mariette C. E. Bitter and John F. Bitter.