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 Charles Bittinger  (1879 - 1970)

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia/Massachusetts      Known for: military illustration, landscape painting, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
Charles Bittinger
from Auction House Records.
The Lamp
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Charles Bittinger was born on June 27, 1879. Originally from Washington D.C., he studied for two years at MIT, with the intention of becoming a scientist. He then switched to art, and went off to Paris to study at various French art schools, among them the École des Beaux-Arts. There he married a concert singer named Edith Gay, and returned to the U.S. to study at the Art Students League. During World War I, he was one of the artists who studied at a camouflage training school established in New York by William Andrew MacKay (Yates 1919). He also worked for the U.S. Navy at Eastman Kodak Laboratories with physicist Loyd A. Jones on the development of low visibility ship camouflage.

Between the wars, Bittinger relocated to Washington D.C., and began experimenting with the use of scientific techniques for producing novel works of art. In 1929, he painted three murals for the Franklin Institute, depicting stages in the life of Benjamin Franklin. When observed in incandescent light, each painting appeared to be a certain picture, but when viewed under ultraviolet light, it revealed an entirely different picture. In 1935, Bittinger exhibited another work in which Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight appeared under normal viewing conditions, but the same painting became the Mona Lisa when viewed through an optical instrument that Bittinger had invented.

The following is an excerpt from Literary Digest (1921) that talks about his uses of the different fields of science and art for unexpected purposes: “

…"Charles Bittinger, a scientist who is primarily an artist, has hit upon the idea of utilizing these differences, increasing them where possible and making them serve his purpose. During the war Mr. Bittinger served in the department of camouflage of the United States Navy, conducting experiments in reflection and transmission of light-waves. By means of the spectro-photometer, he established the reflective powers of a number of pigments and dyes that had invisible spectral differences, and, with a palette set with paintings similar in color when seen in a white light, but contrasting sharply in degrees of light and dark when seen under a red light, painted his two-fold pictures, using round brushes for one series of paints and triangular ones for the other, to avoid confusion in the work.…

In Mr. Bittinger’s New York studio is a miniature stage set with a scene on the Riviera, which immediately changes to Madison Square in winter when the red light is switched on. Costumes, too, can be handled in endless effective ways by applying the principle to the dyes used and to the patterns in which the colors are put on. A chorus might come dancing on in dresses with horizontal stripes. The light changes—and instantly the stripes are vertical…

Mr. Bittinger has painted an airplane wing with the German cross upon it, which when viewed by our army through binoculars equipped with a red filter, discloses itself to be not the German cross, but the red, white and blue of the Allies. Thus an airplane could fly unscathed over the German lines and return home again without being fired upon.”

This research is described scientifically by Clark (1939) as follows: “Some observations by Bittinger may be mentioned in connection with the separation by photographic means of two colors which are visually identical. He selected paints having predetermined and known reflection characteristics and a spectral difference which was not apparent to the eye. Scenes were painted in these colors, and illuminated with light of one color to produce a certain visual effect. By changing the spectral quality of the light in accordance with the known invisible spectral difference in the paints, he was able to produce an entirely different visual effect. For instance, in one example the painting shows a summer scene when viewed by white light, and an entirely different winter scene when illuminated by red light.”

In 1937, Bittinger was invited jointly by the U.S. Navy and the National Geographic Society to travel to Canton Island in the Pacific to paint a total solar eclipse. Nearly a decade later, he was the official artist for Operations Crossroads, for which he was one of the artists to paint the first atomic explosion at the Bikini Atoll in 1946. The paintings he made for the latter are posted online by the US Naval Historical Center at <>.

During World War II, he once again worked on ship camouflage for the U.S. Navy, during which he was the administrative overseer of the research of such camouflage artists as Everett Warner (who was the head of the camouflage team), Bennet Buck, Sheffield H. Kagy, William Walters, Arthur S. Conrad, and Robert Hays.

When Bittinger died on December 18, 1970, his obituary in the Washington Post included this statement:  “Mr Bittinger served in the Navy during both world wars, receiving the Legion of Merit in 1946 for his work in the camouflage section of the Bureau of Ships.”

PATENTS by Charles Bittinger:
US Patent No. 1,342,247 [June 1, 1920]: Combining Reflected and Transmitted Light Waves of
     Varying Lengths to Produce Subjective Changes in Scenic Effects.
US Patent No. 1,629,250 [May 17, 1927]: Production and Utilization of Diachronic Inks.
US Patent No. 1,781,999 [March 16, 1929]: Rear View Mirror.
US Patent No. 1,934,310 [with E.O. Hulburt, November 7, 1933]: Visibility Meter and Method of Measuring Visibility.

Anon, “Two Paintings in One” in Literary Digest, March 12, 1921, p. 25.
Anon, “First ‘Invisible’ Murals in Franklin Institute” in New York Times, June 8, 1934, p. 14.
Anon, “By Any Other Light” in New York Times, March 3, 1935, p. X18.
Roy R. Behrens, Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2009, pp. 54-57.
Roy R. Behrens, ed., Ship Shape: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2012.
Charles Bittinger, “Naval Camouflage” in US Naval Proceedings, October 1940, pp. 1394-1398.
“Charles Bittinger, 91, Dies” (obituary) in Washington Post, December 20, 1970, p. B12.
Walter Clark, Photography by Infra-Red: Its Principles and Application. New York: John Wiley, 1939.
Raymond Francis Yates, “The Science of Camouflage Explained” in Everyday Engineering Magazine, March 1919, pp. 253-256 (reprinted in Behrens 2012).

Submitted by Roy R. Behrens, Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar, University of Northern Iowa.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A noted military artist, Charles Bittinger was a camouflage artist in World Wars I and II and was an artist for the National Geographic Expedition and U.S. Eclipse Expedition to Canton Island in 1937.  He was the official artist for Operations Crossroads and in this capacity, was one of the few artists selected to paint the atomic explosion of 1946 at the Bikini Atoll.

Charles Bittinger was also an inventor and served as a consultant and film tester for Eastman Kodak in the early days of the company.

Bittinger lived in New York from 1907-1914; Duxbury, Massachusetts from 1915 to 1929; and Washington DC from 1929 to 1970 where he was active in the Cosmos Club. He studied in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Sorbonne, and the Academy Delecluse, and with Jean Paul Laurens and Jean Leon Gerome.  In New York, he studied at the Art Students League.  He was a member of the Peconic Art Colony, spending summers in the Indian Neck area of Peconic, Long Island.

When Bittinger was in Paris, he encouraged watercolorist John Marin to join him.  He and John Marin had become stepbrothers after his father, also named Charles Bittinger, had died when he was very young and his mother Isabelle married John Marin, Sr.

Sources include:
Carmen Bittinger, whose husband is grandson of the artist
Peter Hastings Falk (Editor), Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Childs Gallery:
When Charles Bittinger sent The Black Ribbon oil painting to the Art Institute of Chicago for exhibition, he was living at 51 Boulevard St. Jacques in Paris.  He had studied at the Sorbonne from 1900 to 1902, as well as at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the Académie Delecluse, the Académie Colarossi, the Académie Julian (with J. P. Laurens) and finally in Paris with J. L. Gérôme.   In 1906 he participated along with other American artists in the Salon of the Societé Nationale des Beaux Arts.  In the years between 1902 and 1906 he changed addresses in Paris several times before his move to New York in 1907.  The Black Ribbon was his first exhibition picture at both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Pennsylvania Academy.   At the Art Institute he then exhibited almost yearly through 1932 and at the Pennsylvania Academy through 1927.  While a resident in Paris he was a member of the Association des Artistes Américains.
Charles Bittinger was born in Washington, D.C. June 27, 1879.  The young Bittinger attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston from 1898-1900.  He left MIT for study in Paris.  Upon his return to the United States, Bittinger continued an international career as an exhibitor at major expositions.  He also studied at the Art Students League in New York.  He won medals at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915 as well as prizes at National Academy of Design, the Duxbury Art Association, the Society of Washington Artists, the Newport Art Association, and the Landscape Club of Washington. 

He was a member of many of the most prestigious artists' associations including the National Academy of Design (ANA 1912, NA 1937), the National Arts Club, Allied Artists of America, the Salmagundi Club, American Federation of Arts, Cosmos Club, The Colorists, the Guild of Boston Artists, the Duxbury Art Association and was president of both the Washington Art Club and the Society of Washington Artists.
Bittinger was able to  move from Washington to Paris, New York, Duxbury, Massachusetts, and Boston (where he had space in the Fenway Studios), and finally to his birthplace, Washington, DC,  while keeping up social and artistic contacts in each of his former residences.  His work is in many museums including the St. Louis Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the White House Collection in Washington.

Written and submitted September 2005 by D. Roger Howlett, Child's Gallery, Boston

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Charles Bittinger is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Old Lyme Colony Painters
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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