Abbott H. Thayer

Born in Boston in 1849, Abbott H. Thayer grows up in amid nature in New Hampshire. In 1867, he studies at Brooklyn Academy of Design where he begins to shift his focus from his early paintings of wildlife to portrait painting. In 1875 he marries Kate Bloede, and moves to Paris, where he studies at the École des Beaux-Arts. Four years later, he moves back to Brooklyn and in 1887 moves to Keene, New Hampshire. In 1892 he write about countershading, protective (or disruptive) coloration in nature, and background picturing (or matching). Thayer gets involved with military camouflage in 1889 but his ideas get ignored. He finally settles in Dublin, New Hampshire in 1901. In 1902, Thayer, with Gerome Bush, receives a patent for countershading of U.S. Warships. Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom: An Exposition of the Laws of Disguise Through Color and Pattern; Being a Summary of Abbott H. Thayer’s Disclosures is published in 1909. In 2008 the documentary Invisible: Abbott Thayer and the Art of Camouflage is released. 

Thayer's son Gerald describes countershading, obliterative shading or Thayer’s Law in this manner: “If a rounded object, say a ball or a cylinder, ‘in plain sight,’ is made to disappear, it has, in the first place to be countershaded. [...] Its shadowed parts must be made lighter in color, must be painted lighter until the shadow no longer shows; and the portions facing the source of light must be just proportionally darkened. In this way a rounded, solid form can be made to look perfectly flat.”

Countershading in a duck


Countershading in a mouse