Have you ever wondered how a painter of angels became the birth father of military camouflage clothing? In 1909, Abbott Thayer printed his book “Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom”. He was a very famous artist, deceased in 1921, and a mentor to many other artists. The evolution from Abbott’s angels to the army is quite ironic. Abbott’s goal was to paint pictures that showed the highest possible human beauty and soul. He was part of a group of artists that had frequented Paris art schools towards the end of the 19th century and came back with a brand new vision of American Art. They tried to convey atmosphere and timeless beauty in their paintings, usually by creating images of beautiful young women. The paintings were very different from the Pre-Raphaelites storytelling images, and also very different from the more popular muscular realism and impressionism. However, although steering away from popular demand in those days, Abbott was seen by many as one of the finest painters of figures in America.
Besides human beauty, Abbott was also obsessed with nature. He was an Emersonian transcendentalist and hence found in nature some real purity, seeing it as the spiritual truth and real beauty that he tried to convey in his paintings. In combining his love for art and his love for nature, he came up with concealing coloration and how animals use this to hide from their predators. This was a highly radical theory in the times. Although it turned out to be the foundation of military camouflage as we know it today, other types of camouflage had been used in the past. For instance, brush was employed to conceal soldiers on marches in the Macbeth play by Shakespeare, and it has also long been used in the headdresses found in African tribes. Abbott explained that these were used to change the appearance of their silhouette. However, although some of this clearly already existed, Abbott is the one who truly set the ball rolling by developing a full doctrine of using colors to conceal. He based this on his own observations and experiments.
He achieved this by completely merging his art and the studies of nature he was involved in. He stated that concealing coloration was like his second child. He felt that it had hold of one of his hands, whilst the painting has a hold of the other hand. His theory quickly became noted by military forces all over the world, which started applying this in the clothing worn by soldiers. Nowadays, wearing camouflage clothing is as much a fashion statement as a military uniform and if you have anything that has a camouflage design, you may want to stop and think about the love for humans and nature that actually went into designing this originally.