Karl Bitter is a famous American sculptor

Photo portrait of Karl Bitter in the studio, 1907
Photo portrait of Karl Bitter in the studio, 1907

Karl Bitter is a famous American sculptor who tragically died in his prime of life under the wheels of a car

Karl Bitter (December 6, 1867 April 9, 1915) is a famous American sculptor of Austrian origin, an outstanding master of neoclassicism of the late XIX early XX centuries. Bitter became famous for creating decorative relief decorations on the facades of municipal buildings and private residences. Among the best masterpieces of the artist’s work there are also numerous monuments of prominent compatriots. There are many interesting facts and remarkable events in the master’s biography.

Karl Bitter was one of the most successful creative expatriates in US history. During his life, he received many well-deserved awards from the American government, and shortly before his tragic death he was elected president of the National Society of Sculptors.

Bronze Gate Trinity Church in New York, 1891
Bronze Gate Trinity Church in New York, 1891

Biography

Karl Bitter was born on December 6, 1867 in Vienna into the family of a pharmacist. The upbringing of the future artist and his two brothers was taken care of by a housewife mother, who instilled in children a love of religion and art. Contrary to the wishes of his father, who wanted his sons to become professional lawyers, at the age of 14, Karl dropped out of a prestigious gymnasium and entered the Vienna School of Applied Arts.

Caryatids on the building of St. Paul's Cathedral, 1896
Caryatids on the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1896

Then the young man continued his studies at the Austrian Academy of Painting and Sculpture under the guidance of Edmund Hellmer, and after receiving his diploma he got a job as an assistant in the workshop of the famous sculptor Joseph Kaffsack. Under the influence of an experienced mentor, Bitter became interested in making architectural decorations for buildings and very soon achieved his first successes in this field.

But in the late 1880s, the young sculptor was drafted into the Austrian army and he had to leave his professional career for a while. After several years of military service, the army authorities gave Bitter a short leave, after which he was supposed to arrive at his military unit.

Depew Memorial Fountain, 1915
Depew Memorial Fountain, 1915

However, Karl, having visited his parents, decided not to return to the service.

He secretly reached one of the German seaports and boarded a steamer sailing to America. And at the end of November 1889, when the army leadership began an active search for a deserter, the young man had already arrived in New York, where a new stage in his life began.

Arriving in the United States, Karl Bitter immediately applied for American citizenship and got a job in a company that was engaged in the manufacture of architectural decor for building facades. A few months later, the young sculptor applied for a competition to make a gate for the Trinity Church in New York and, unexpectedly for many, became the winner of a prestigious creative competition.

Figure of Joan of Arc on the Biltmore Estate, 1895
Figure of Joan of Arc on the Biltmore Estate, 1895

This event was a turning point in his career.

With the money earned in the competition, Karl Bitter was able to equip his own studio, and thanks to the wide recognition of the public, he very soon acquired many customers. The most famous architect of New York, Richard Morris Hunt, drew attention to the talented artist, who offered Karl a profitable cooperation.

By the age of 30, Bitter had become a recognized master of sculpture, whose numerous works adorned buildings in New York, Chicago and other cities in the United States. In 1898 he obtained American citizenship and moved to Philadelphia, where he soon married the daughter of German immigrants, Mary Sheville. In a happy marriage, he had three children two sons (Francis and John) and a daughter, Marietta.

Government symbols on the Alexander Hamilton American Customs Building, 1895
Government symbols on the Alexander Hamilton American Customs Building, 1895

Karl Bitter’s professional career was very successful. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he returned to New York, where he set up an art workshop with many assistants. In addition to making architectural decorative reliefs, the master devoted a lot of time and effort to the creation of monumental and tombstones.

Henry Willard Memorial, 1904
Henry Willard Memorial, 1904
In 1909, the Austrian emperor, by his decree, pardoned Bitter for desertion from the army.

Taking advantage of this circumstance, the sculptor with his children and wife was able to visit his native Vienna, but, despite the insistence of the authorities to stay, he returned to America.

The ingenious master was happy to create new masterpieces, amassed a huge fortune and achieved worldwide recognition. He made grandiose plans for the future, which were not destined to come true. On April 9, 1915, after the performance, Karl Bitter was walking with his wife on the sidewalk near the Metropolitan Opera, when a car suddenly bumped into them and lost control. The sculptor managed to push his wife aside, but he himself fell under the wheels of a vehicle and instantly died at the scene of the accident. At the time of his death, he was only 47 years old.

Monument to Alexander Hamilton at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse (Cleveland, Ohio), 1909-1911
Monument to Alexander Hamilton at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse (Cleveland, Ohio), 1909-1911
The most famous works of Karl Bitter

The famous artist managed to create dozens of wonderful masterpieces during his career. And yet, the most famous works of Karl Bitter are:

  • The “Bronze Gate” of Trinity Church in New York (1891) is a magnificent work that adorns the central entrance to an ancient temple built in the Gothic style. This masterpiece is located in the heart of the city, close to Broadway and Wall Street.
  • Relief “Spirit of Transport” (1894) is a multi-figured sculptural composition created by the author for the central railway station in Philadelphia. Today, this masterpiece adorns the waiting room of 30th Street Station in the same city.
  • The symbols of government on the Alexander Hamilton American Customs Building (1895) are an allegorical work of an eagle and two female figures. The work is installed on the main entrance to the customs house on the roof of the building facade above the main entrance.
  • Monument to Franz Siegel (1907) a monument dedicated to a prominent participant in the American Civil War. Equestrian sculpture is located in New York City, at the intersection of 106th Street and Riverside Drive.

Karl Bitter is rightfully one of the greatest US sculptors of all time. He lived a short, but very eventful life and left to posterity many unique works of art.

Karl Bitter, Monument to Franz Siegel, 1907
Monument to Franz Siegel, 1907
Karl Bitter, Monument to Karl Schurz, 1913
Monument to Karl Schurz, 1913
Karl Bitter, Relief Spirit of Transport, 1894
Relief Spirit of Transport, 1894
Karl Bitter, Sculpture and caryatids of the western facade of the building of the Court of Appeal, 1902
Sculpture and caryatids of the western facade of the building of the Court of Appeal, 1902
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