Abbott Handerson Thayer USA
8-12-1849 Boston, USA - 5-29-1921Dublin, USABack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
At the age of fifteen Abbott Handerson Thayer was sent to the Chauncy Hall School in Boston, where he met Henry D. Morse, an amateur artist who painted animals. With guidance from Morse, Abbott developed and improved his painting skills, focusing on depictions of birds and other wildlife, and soon began painting animal portraits on commission.
At age 18, he relocated to Brooklyn, New York, to study painting at the Brooklyn Art School and the National Academy of Design. studying under Lemuel Wilmarth. He met many emerging and progressive artists during this period in New York, including his future wife, Kate Bloede and his close friend, Daniel Chester French. In 1875, after having married Kate Bloede, he moved to Paris, where he studied for four years at the École des Beaux-Arts, with Henri Lehmann and Jean-Léon Gérôme, and where his closest friend became the American artist George de Forest Brush. Returning to New York, Abbott Handerson Thayer established his own portrait studio, became active in the Society of American Painters, and began to take in apprentices.
Life became all but unbearable for Abbott Handerson Thayer and his wife during the early 1880s, when two of their small children died unexpectedly, just one year apart. After her father died, Thayer's wife lapsed into an irreversible melancholia, which led to her confinement in an asylum, the decline of her health, and her eventual death. Soon after, Thayer married their long-time friend, Emmeline "Emma" Buckingham Beach, whose father owned The New York Sun. He and his second wife spent their remaining years in rural New Hampshire, living simply and working productively. In 1901, they settled permanently in Dublin, New Hampshire, where Thayer had grown up.
Eccentric and opinionated, Thayer grew more so as he aged, and his family's manner of living reflected his strong beliefs: the Thayers typically slept outdoors year-round in order to enjoy the benefits of fresh air, and the three children were never enrolled in a school. The younger two, Gerald and Gladys, shared their father's enthusiasms, and became painters.
Abbott Handerson Thayer is sometimes referred to as the "father of camouflage". While he did not invent camouflage, he was one of the first to write about disruptive patterning to break up an object's outlines, about masquerade, as when a butterfly mimics a leaf and especially about countershading.
Beginning in 1892, he wrote about the function of countershading in nature, by which forms appear less round and less solid through inverted shading, by which he accounted for the white undersides of animals. This finding is still accepted widely, and is sometimes now called Thayer’s Law.
Abbott Handerson Thayer first became involved in military camouflage in 1898, during the Spanish–American War, when he and his friend George de Forest Brush proposed the use of protective coloration on American ships, using countershading.
Abbott Handerson Thayer and Brush’s experiments with camouflage continued into World War I, both collaboratively and separately. Early during that war, for example, Brush developed a transparent airplane, while Thayer continued his interest in disruptive or high-difference camouflage, which was not unlike what British ship camouflage designer Norman Wilkinson would call dazzle camouflage, a term that may have been inspired by Thayer's writings, which referred to disruptive patterns in nature as "razzle dazzle".
Influences: Lemuel Wilmarth, Henri Lehmann, Jean-Léon Gérôme
Traveled: France, England
Influenced: Rockwell Kent, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Barry Faulkner, Dennis Miller Bunker