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Karl Bitter


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Sculptor. Known especially for architectural ornamentation, he also executed independent pieces, including portraits, as well as decorative embellishments for domestic interiors. In later years, he orchestrated architecture, space, and sculpture in urban areas and at temporary expositions. Karl Theodore Francis Bitter was born in Vienna and trained there from 1881 to 1884 at the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry's School of Applied Arts and from 1885 to 1888 at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Simultaneously, he assisted in producing sculptural decorations for major new buildings. After a year of military service, in 1888 he deserted. He arrived in New York near the end of the next year, following an interim in Berlin. Within weeks, preeminent Beaux-Arts architect Richard Morris Hunt recruited him to collaborate on major projects. Besides the Administration Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, these included palatial residences in New York and Newport, Rhode Island, as well as Biltmore (1893–95), a stupendous mansion near Asheville, North Carolina. At the end of 1895, Bitter departed on the first of several return trips to Europe. Already in the planning then, his new home in Weehawken, on the Palisades above the Hudson River, was ready for occupancy in 1896. Although he again lived in Manhattan from 1909, he continued to maintain a workshop at the New Jersey site. In 1906 his style shifted from the naturalistic Baroque mode he had previously practiced to a more severe approach inspired by early Greek sculpture. The first American sculptor to incorporate archaic tendencies, by 1908 he had also adopted elements of the Viennese Secession style, giving much of his later work a modernist tone. His conception of sculpture as a component of public space stimulated Bitter's activism in urban planning, his insistence on integrating memorials into visually coherent settings, and his appointment as director of sculpture for two world's fairs, Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition (1901) and San Francisco's Panama-Pacific Exposition (1915). In mid-Manhattan, Grand Army Plaza (at Fifth Avenue and Sixtieth Street) reflects his vision for a gracious open space. His final sculpture, the bronze figure of Pomona (known also as Abundance; 1914–16), crowns the Pulitzer Fountain there. He died in an automobile accident in the city.

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