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utorak, 22. lipnja 2010.

Ivan Meštrović - World Renown Sculptor and Croatian Michelangelo

Ivan Meštrović (1883-1962)

Source: ivan-mestrovic-croatian-sculptor

Well, I've been in a sort of artsy, creative kick lately, you know, films, paintings, sculptures..all that. (Much more interesting than going downtown and putting up with the kreteni) and just the other day I was going through some of my photo's and vids from my trip to Croatia last summer. I was checking out some of the ones where I was pictured standing by some of the the statues that were made by Croatia's most famous sculptor Ivan Meštrović, who is also renowned as possibly the greatest sculptor since the Renaissance. Probably a lot of non-Croatians have never heard of him, but there's probably many people (I'm talking millions) that have seen his works and in many cases walk by them on a daily basis. He was the first living person to have a one man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Some of his most famous pieces I had the opportunity to admire in person. Especially in Zagreb and in Split. Seeing his 'Povijest Hrvata' (History of the Croats) and getting to rub the toe of Gregory of Nin (Grgur Ninski) for good luck was pretty cool. (Such a touristy thing to do, but I figured why not?)

I also had a chance to visit an Ivan Meštrović museum in Zagreb, the  Meštrović  Atelijer. Anyway, he lived in a time that was very chaotic, changing , with empires falling, political intrigue and wars being the front page of newspapers everyday, (I guess some things never change) and he did his best to stay true to his art and 'walk between the raindrops', so to speak. He lived a very eventful life and traveled for quite a bit of it, always concentrating on his art. (In his 2 years  in Paris alone, he completed over 50 monuments) This addition is not about the politics of the time (which were constantly in flux) or religious views of the man or the times. It's strictly about the art and artist. You can click on the links to find out more about his intriguing life, art and where they are to be found.

A rare view of Meštrović's statue of the Croatian Princess Mila Gojsalić standing over the town of Omiš during a lightning storm. Image:

   'Povijest Hrvata' (History of the Croats) in front of the Faculty of Law at Zagreb University.

Sources and related links:

Early life

Ivan Meštrović was born in Vrpolje, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia in the Croatian Triune Kingdom at the time also a part of Austria-Hungary (ie: today's Croatia) He spent his childhood in Otavice, a small village located on the edge of Petrovo field in Croatian Dalmatian hinterland, where his father was the only one in the community who could read. The destiny of the Croatian people played a strong role in the formation of his personality. Virtually all of his works pay homage to his Croatian upbringing, his early works were inspired by the heroes of Croatian folklore, as well as the struggles of the Croatian people against various oppressors throughout history. At the age of sixteen, a master stone cutter from Split, Pavle Bilinić, noticed his talent and he took him as an apprentice. His artistic skills were improved by studying the monumental buildings in the city and his education at the hands of Bilinić's wife, who was a high-school teacher. Soon, they found a mine owner from Vienna who paid for Meštrović to move there and be admitted to the Art Academy. He had to quickly learn German from scratch and adjust to the new environment, but he persevered and successfully finished his studies.

"Persephone", 1946, Rome, by Ivan Meštrović. Meštrović Palace in Split, Croatia.

Ivan Meštrović Gallery in Split, Croatia.

In 1905 he made his first exhibit with the Secession Group in Vienna, noticeably influenced with the Art Nouveau style. Later at a group show in Zagreb, the Austrian emperor purchased the sculpture "Mother and Child." His work quickly became popular, even with the likes of Auguste Rodin, and he soon earned enough for him and his wife (married in 1904) Ruža Klein, to travel to more international exhibitions. In 1905 he received his first major commission: The Well of Life that stands outside the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. The money from this commission permitted Meštrović and his young wife to discover Italy and Paris, Michelangelo and the Louvre. Only six years after arriving barefoot in Vienna, Mestrovic started to participate in national and international exhibits. In 1908 he moved to Paris. In his Montparnasse studio, in only two years, he executed over fifty sculptures, each larger than life, and became an international success.

During the World War I and II

In 1908 Meštrović moved to Paris and the sculptures made in this period earned him international reputation. Ivan was friend of the cubist painter Jelena Dorotka (Helene Dorotka von Ehrenwall). In 1911 he moved to Belgrade for a short time because of constant requests for him to do Serbian projects, soon afterwards he departed to Rome where his works made while in Belgrade was being shown and he received the grand prix for the Serbian Pavilion at the 1911 Rome International Exhibition. He then remained in Rome to spend four years studying ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. After they moved to Rome, during these years it was the international meeting point of artists and intellectuals, many of whom befriended the Meštrović's - Papini, Ungaretti, Bistolfi, de Chirico, de Pisis, Pica, Barilli, Croce, Rodin, Gorki, and Anglade among others.

In the onset of the World War I, after the assassination in Sarajevo of the Archduke Ferdinand by a member of a Serb ultranationalist terrorist organization, Meštrović tried to move back to Split via Venice, but was dissuaded because of the tense political situation between the Austro-Hungarian authorities and Serbia. During the war he also travelled to make exhibits in Paris, Cannes, London and in Switzerland. The exiles in Italy at the beginning of World War I were informed that the allies were secretly negotiating with Italy to enter the war on their side. Italy as a price however demanded Croatian and Slovenian territory. Two Croatian political leaders, Ante Trumbic and Frano Supilo, with Meštrović to support them with his reputation, conceived a last minute hastily made Yugoslavian Committee of National Liberation to save Croatian Dalmatia and Slovenian territory from Italian expansion, and to fight for the right of the Croatian lands to remain unified. The seat of this organization, during the four years of war, was London, with the aim of guaranteeing Croatian rights and sovereignty in any future political entity.

By then Meštrović  was well known to the British public. His English friends, aware of the unjust territorial compensation promised to Italy, organized a Mestrovic one-man show in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The great admiration that they felt for his talent prompted them to draw the attention of the British public to the cultural achievements and history of the Croats. On the 24th of June, Lord Cecil, Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, opened the exhibit. Other exhibits throughout the British Isles, including Glasgow and Edinburg, followed. Meštrović's sculpture and Croatian historical ballads and folk legends found their way into the books of Margaret Yoursenar, D.H. Lawrence, and even Agatha Christie.

After the WWI he moved back home which was now a part of the newly formed Yugoslavia and met the second love of his life, Olga Kesterčanek, whom he married shortly after. They had four children: Marta, Tvrtko, Maria and Mate, all of whom were born in Zagreb, where they settled in 1922. He was a contemporary and friend of Nikola Tesla, whom he lent money to and later made a statue of at no cost as Tesla was destitute and received not a penny of help from the Serb king or his government. (Tesla refused to move to Belgrade as requested) Meštrović and family would later spend the winter months in their mansion in Zagreb and the summer months in a summer house he built by the end of the 1930s in Split. He became a professor and later the director of the Art Institute in Zagreb, and soon proceeded to build numerous internationally renowned works as well as many donated chapels and churches and grants to art students.

By 1923 he designed the mausoleum for the Račić family at Cavtat, and he also created, under Serb pressure and threats, a set of statues for a never-built Yugoslav national temple that would be erected in Kosovo. The project was advanced by the Serbian Yugoslav dictator king in order to commemorate and glorify a crushing Serbian defeat that happened there in 1389 against the Ottomans. (an event that brought over 400 years of humiliating Turkish rule and expedited the spread of Islam into Europe)

He continued to travel to post his exhibits around the world: he displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1924, in Chicago in 1925, he even traveled to Egypt and Palestine in 1927. In 1927 he entered a design for the coins of the Irish Free State, and though his design arrived too late for consideration, it was eventually adopted in 1965 as the seal of the Central Bank of Ireland.

The famous Croatian writer, poet and humanist Marko Marulić in Split, Croatia. 

Being in conflict with both the Italians (since he opposed their irredentist territorial pursuit of Dalmatia) and the Germans (for not dealing harsher with Italian irredentist claims), he was imprisoned for three and a half months by the Ustaše during World War II. With help from the Vatican he was released. He first travelled to Venice where he attended the Croatian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. From there he relocated to Rome, and later to Switzerland, his first wife Ruža died in 1942 after a lengthy illness. Later, his brother Petar was imprisoned by the emerging communists and other relatives were murdered by roaming Serb chetniks, which further depressed the artist. Marshall Tito's government in Yugoslavia eventually invited Meštrović back, but he refused to live in a communist country.

 Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. Image:

Just to be fair, I decided to throw in this very popular landmark statue from downtown Cow Town where I'm currently at. Locals like to hang around it at night while chowing down on beef jerky, many newlyweds surprisingly also include it in their wedding photos, it's a very eclectically themed statue. (Click image for larger view)

In 1946, Syracuse University offered him a professorship, and he moved to the United States. He was awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Gold Medal for sculpture in 1953. President Dwight D. Eisenhower personally presided over the 1954 ceremony granting Meštrović American citizenship. He then went on to become professor of fine arts at the University of Notre Dame in 1955.

From Croatian HTV2, footage of Mestrovic and the preparations for his "Bowman and Spearman' sculptures to be permanently shown in Chicago's Grant Park.

Death and legacy

Before he died, Meštrović returned to Yugoslavia for one last time in order to visit and pay respects to the imprisoned Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and then face Tito himself. At the request of various people from Yugoslavia he sent 59 statues from the United States to Yugoslavia (including the monument of Njegoš), and in 1952 decided to sign off his other works and all his personal estates to the Republic of Croatia and Croatian people, including over 400 sculptures and numerous drawings and sketches. Virtually all of his works pay homage to his Croatian upbringing. His early works were inspired by the heroes of Croatian folklore, as well as the struggles of the Croatian people against various oppressors throughout history.

After 80 years of submitting the design for Irish coinage it was finally used on a 2007 Irish commemorative coin ( in cooperation with the Croatian bank. 

 The Ivan Meštrović 150 Kuna Silver Coin.

 The Bowman from his "Bowman and Spearman" statues in Chicago.

'The Canadian Phalanx' in Ottawa, Canada.

Meštrović with his "Persephone" bronze at Syracuse University, NY. Ivan Meštrović joined the Syracuse University faculty in early 1947 as a professor and stayed in Syracuse until 1955 when he relocated to Notre Dame as professor of fine arts. During those years he made a profound impact on the campus, both in teaching sculpture and in the artwork that remains today as his legacy.

The early deaths of two of his children preceded his own. His daughter Marta, who moved with him to the US, died in 1949 at the age of 24; his son Tvrtko, who remained in Zagreb, was 39 when he died in 1961. During the 1950s he made several contributions to ‘Hrvatska revija’, a journal for Croatian emigrants. The journal would later publish his full memoirs. In 1961, Meštrović's memoirs Uspomene na političke ljude i događaje were published by the Croatian emigrant publishing house Hrvatska revija (Croatian Review) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1969, they were published by Matica Hrvatska in Zagreb.

Meštrović was the first artist to have a solo exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which went on display in 1915. He also was the first artist to have his work exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while he was still alive.

After creating four clay sculptures to memorialize his children, Ivan Meštrović died in early 1962 at the age of 78, in South Bend, Indiana. In accordance with his wishes, his remains were transferred to a mausoleum in his childhood home of Otavice, Croatia.

 Meštrović mausoleum in Otavice, Croatia.

His son Matthew (Mate Meštrović.) Meštrović is an American university professor of Modern European history and worked as a Contributing Editor of ”TIME”, served as a lieutenant in the US. Army PsyWar.  He was president of the Croatian National congress and lobbied on behalf of Croatian independence and self determination in Washington ,Western Europe and Australia and a deputy in the Croatian Parliament , member of Croatia’s delegation to the Council of Europe and the Interparliamentary Union and served as ambassador in the Foreign Ministry, recipient of Croatian and Bulgarian decorations. Because of his father's and his own political anti-communist beliefs and commitment to Croatian freedom, he was declared by the Yugoslav regime enemy Number One of the Yugoslav State and a top CIA agent. His grandson Stjepan is a sociology professor at Texas A&M and author of several books, including "Srce od kamena, Moj djed Ivan Meštrović" (Heart of stone, my grandfather Ivan Meštrović)

During his time studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, 1904.

"Srce od kamena, Moj djed Ivan Meštrović" (Heart of stone, my grandfather Ivan Meštrović) authored by his grandson Stjepan Meštrović. More info:

During his time with the Secession Group in Vienna, 1905.

Ivan and 1st wife Ruža Meštrović (Klein) after marrying in 1904.

After meeting and marrying in Vienna in 1904, because Ruža wasn't able to the couple had no children before they divorced.

His design for the tomb of Ruža Meštrović who died in 1942 after a lengthy illness, she is buried at Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb. He married his second wife Olga Kesterčanek in 1922. 

His 2nd wife Olga Meštrović (Kesterčanek) in 1924. The couple engaged in 1922 and had four children together: Marta, Tvrtko, Maria, and Mate.

Psiha (Psyche) Marble statue at the Meštrović Palace in Split, Croatia.


He created over fifty monuments during his two years in Paris (1908–1910). He was commissioned by the Serbian Yugoslav dictator king personally to make the theme of the Battle of Kosovo and the Paris Kosovo Monument, and other works in bronze and stone. The project was advanced by the Serbian Yugoslav dictator king in order to commemorate and glorify a crushing Serbian defeat that happened there in 1389 against the Ottomans. (an event that brought over 400 years of humiliating Turkish rule and expedited the spread of Islam into Europe)

Zdenac života (Well of Life). In 1905 The Well of Life was his very first commissioned project in front of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb.

A closer look at the "Well of Life" situated in front of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb.

The art and monuments of Ivan Meštrović featured in a recent Croatian tourism spot.

With the creation of the first Yugoslavia, his focus shifted to more mundane topics such as musical instruments or chapels. He particularly oriented himself towards religious items, mostly made of wood, under artistic influence from the Roman, Byzantine and Gothic architecture. The most renowned works from the early period are the Crucifix and Madonna; later he became more impressed by Michelangelo Buonarroti and created a large number of stone reliefs and portraits. The Croatian dinar after independence featured Meštrović's work "History of the Croats".

His most famous monuments include:

* History of Croats in the garden of Beli dvor in Belgrade. copy in the front of Zagreb University in Zagreb
* Gregory of Nin (Grgur Ninski) in Split
* Josip Juraj Strossmayer in Zagreb
* The Well of Life in Zagreb
* Domagoj's Archers in Zagreb (Meštrović Foundation)
* The Bowman and The Spearman in Chicago
* Martin Kukučín in the Medical Garden, Bratislava, Slovakia
* Ionel I. C. Bratianu in Bucharest, Romania (24 noiembrie 1937)
* King Carol I in Bucharest, Romania (1939) / unfortunately this monument was destroyed by communists after 1948
* Gratitude to France in Belgrade
* Monument to the Unknown Hero, Avala, Belgrade
* Victor monument on Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade
* Svetozar Miletić in Novi Sad
* Nikola Tesla in Belgrade and Niagara Falls State Park (identical twin statues)
* Nikola Tesla in Zagreb
* Njegoš mausoleum on Mount Lovćen in Montenegro

Galleries including his work include:

* the Meštrović gallery in Split, formed after his major donation in 1950, which includes 86 statues in marble, stone, bronze, wood and gypsum, 17 drawings, and also eight bronze statues in the open garden, 28 reliefs in wood in the kaštelet and one stone crucifix.
* the Ivan Meštrović Memorial Gallery created in 1973 in Vrpolje, his birthplace, with 35 works in bronze and plaster stone.
* "Louisiana Arts and Science Museum (LASM)". Retrieved 20 May 2010. Baton Rouge has a large collection of sculptures and drawings
* the People's Museum in Belgrade which holds monuments such as Miloš Obilić, Kosovo girl, Srđa Zlopogleđa, Kraljević Marko, Widow.


(1915, London) 'Ruža Meštrović', a bronze of his first wife.

From The Ivan Meštrović Foundation:

In 1952, a contract of donation was concluded between Ivan Meštrović and the People's Republic of Croatia, by means of which Ivan Meštrović donated to the people of Croatia his family house and atelier in Zagreb (later adapted into an exhibition space - the Meštrović Atelier), the family villa with ateliers in Split (which later also became an exhibition space - the Ivan Meštrović Gallery), the sacral and art complex Kaštelet-Crikvine in Split, and the Meštrović family vault - The Most Holy Redeemer Church near Otavice. The donation also included several Meštrović's works of art, today the bases of the museum holdings of the mentioned institutions.

This is Secession big bronze Vestal Virgin or Vestalka (1917, Cannes) that is in the Meštrović Palace or Gallery in Split, Croatia ( in the new permanent display it is on the first floor, in the old display it was in front of the palace ) . Much finer is the small bronze cast (London, 1915) , study for the big statue. Actually this is Ruzena Zatkova Khvoshinska - a Czech lady , married to a Russian diplomat . The famous sculptor Ivan Meštrović was in love with her , as his own book "Fair and burns" testify.  He was a pretty good writer too. Some of his books are as follows : "Remembrance of political leaders and events ", "Ludi Mile", " Conversations with Michelangelo", "Michelangelo's opus", "Despite of everything I hope" etc.  He wrote dramas and poems.

The Ivan Meštrović Palace was built in Split between 1931 and 1939. Meštrović himself made the original plans based on his own design, the architects Harold Bilinic and Lavoslav Horvat developed them, and the builder Marin Marasović was in charge of the works. The construction was built section by section, starting from the East and ending with the western parts, and it was designed to serve living, working, and exhibition purposes. Ivan Meštrović and his family resided in their palace at Meje from the summer of 1932. In 1941, Meštrović left for Zagreb, while his wife and children remained in Split for another year. In the owner’s absence, it was Dr. Milan Curcin who first took care of the artist’s house and property (1942-1947), and Dr. Cvito Fisković took over between 1947 and 1952. The palace, later converted into the Ivan Meštrović Gallery, was inhabited by several families between 1947 and 1965. More information.

Until 1991, the Meštrović Gallery in Split (which included the Kaštelet-Crikvine complex) functioned as an independent museum, the Meštrović Atelier was first under the jurisdiction of the Gradska galerija suvremene umjetnosti (the City Gallery of Contemporary Art) and later of the Galerije grada Zagreba (the City of Zagreb Galleries), while The Most Holy Redeemer Church was under the jurisdiction of the Muzej Drniške Krajine (the Drniš Region Museum).

The Ivan Meštrović Foundation Law of 1991 legally founded the Ivan Meštrović Foundation with the administrative headquarters in Zagreb, Mletačka 8. The basic mission of the Foundation is to protect and maintain the donated buildings and works, to present them appropriately to the public, and to guarantee a professional treatment of the holdings. The Foundation should also ensure a wider and complete historical and artistic treatment of Ivan Meštrović's life and work. The professional staff of the Foundation tries to valorize and popularize Meštrović's works and his contribution to plastic arts of the 20th century through exhibitions, publications, specialist and scientific works, and educational programmes. All regular activities and special programmes of the Foundation are financed by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia.

Part 1 of a 6 part documentary from Croatian Television about the life and times of Ivan Meštrović, including very rare vintage of footage of the artist from his early years. Also included are interviews from members of his family today.


One of the artist's most recent works is the "Mother of Immigrants" statue unveiled in October, 1960, on Cathedral Square in Milwaukee; it bears the inscription "Dedicated to Immigrant Mothers." On August 12, 1960 Meštrović celebrated his seventy seventh birthday at which time he received also felicitations from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He died in South Bend, Indiana on January 17, 1962 and his body was transferred-according to his own wish-to his native Otavice. Much of his art is symbolic of his political leanings. His outspokenness put his life and the lives of his family in jeopardy, causing them to have to flee their beloved Croatia.

He has four museums in Croatia and two in the USA, at Notre Dame, Indiana and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (LASM).There is a large collection of his art at Syracuse University as well monuments in Chicago, Washington DC, New York,The Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, St.Augustine and Miami, Florida, Buffalo, N.Y., Hawaii etc.

Ivan Meštrović received in 1956 the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal. Gold Medal is given for the entire work of the recipient. Two Medals are awarded each year by the academy for distinguished achievement. His hometown of Otavice was occupied by Serbian rebels and chetnik extremists from 1991 to 1995. The Croatian forces that reclaimed and freed the area in 1995 discovered that his mausoleum had been savagely attacked and other tombs desecrated. Reconstruction began promptly.

Meštrović's works in bronze, stone, and wood can be found in galleries, museums and private collections in the US, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, England, Italy, Montenegro, Canada, France, Hungary, Russia, Germany, Argentina, Austria, Vatican, Switzerland, Spain, Czech Republic, Belgium, Brazil, Romania, Chile, Slovakia, Uruguay, Israel, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Macedonia and Alba Bulgarica Sanjak of Smederevo etc.

Meštrović's Pavilion- Home of Croatian Artists. Located in Zagreb.

Ivan Meštrović's statue in Split of Croatian Humanist and Renaissance poet Marko Marulić

His statue of Gregory of Nin (Croatian: Grgur Ninski) near Diocletians' Palace in Split. He produced the monument of the important Croatian historical figure in medieval Croatian language historiography and who was a strong proponent of Croatian political interests, and gave it to the city of Split in 1926.

 I haven't won the lottery yet, so I might have to go back and touch Meštrović's "Gregory of Nin" again.

The following photos are in no particular order from my 2011 visit to the Meštrović Palace in Split.

The following few photographs I quickly took on my last day in Croatia, at the Meštrović Atelier in Zagreb. These are just of the outside Atrium, you can also go inside and see many more that are part of the permanent display. (There's a virtual tour at the above link)

This is his famous "History of the Croats" (Povijest Hrvata) located in front of the Zagreb University Faculty of Law. (360 degree view Here)

A few different angles of  Meštrović's "Well of Life" (Zdenac života) in front of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb.

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