The son of Carl and Henrietta Bitter, he was born in the municipal district Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus of Vienna. His early training took place at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule (the imperial school for the applied arts), and after that at the Kunstakademie (the Academy of Fine Arts). At the Academy, he studied with August Kühne and Edmund Heller. Upon his graduation, he was apprenticed to an architectural sculptor,Joseph Kaffsack [de]. This was the period that the Ringstraße was being built in Vienna, and a large number of decorated buildings were being built.
He was drafted into the Austrian Army, and deserted while on leave. He was unable to return to Austria for many years because of his desertion. He later was pardoned by Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, who hoped to lure the famous sculptor back to Vienna.
Bitter immigrated to the United States in 1889, arriving in New York City. He applied for citizenship, and set to work as an assistant with a firm of house decorators. While employed with this firm, at age 21, he competed for the Astor memorial bronze gates of Trinity Church and won. The work gave him sufficient capital to build and establish a small studio on 13th Street.
Bitter modeled seated statues of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to flank the entrance to the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio (1909-11). He portrayed the men in early middle age, as in the 1780s when they clashed over what kind of nation the United States should become. Missouri commissioned a copy of Jefferson (1913), and Bitter made minor alterations to portray Jefferson as he looked as President when he signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty in 1803. For the commission from the University of Virginia, Bitter aged Jefferson further, portraying him as he looked in retirement.
Among the awards won by Bitter were the silver medal of the Paris Exposition, 1900; the gold medal of the Pan-American Exposition, 1901; a gold medal at Philadelphia, 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 of Design, to which he was elected in 1902; the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Players' Club, Century Club, and vice-president of the Architectural League from 1904 to 1906 and from 1909 to 1911, and member of the Art Commission, New York, from 1912 to 1915.
Although Bitter arose out of the Classical/Naturalist styles he was increasingly turning towards a more modern approach to sculpture. Much of the work in Buffalo and St. Louis was allegorical in nature. Where this would have taken him will never be known, because he was killed in an accident in 1915 when, while leaving the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a car jumped the curb on Broadway and struck him down. His wife survived the accident as he had pushed her out of the way of the oncoming car.
Like many of the sculptors and painters of the day, Bitter frequently employed the services of the muse and history's first "super model", Audrey Munson. On 30 June 1901, he married Marie A. Sherrill, of Cincinnati, Ohio. They had three children: Francis T. R. Bitter, Marietta C. E. Bitter and John F. Bitter. Their son Francis Bitter, born in 1902, became a prominent American physicist.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Note Bitter's portrait medallions on the spandrels above the arches, his caryatids at left, and the limestone blocks above the paired columns for his unexecuted sculpture groups.