Ivan Mestrovic

Ivan Meštrović Template:Audio (August 15, 1883January 16, 1962) was a Croatian sculptor. He is renowned as possibly the greatest sculptor of religious subject matter since the Renaissance, the first person to have a one man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

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Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.


Ivan was born in the town of Vrpolje in Slavonia, region of Croatia, but spent his childhood in a small village of Otavice in the Dalmatian (also a Croatian region) hinterland (both places were in Austria-Hungary at the time). As a child, Meštrović listened to epic poetry, folk songs and historical ballads while he tended sheep, and this inspired him to carve both in wood and stone. Being the son of a religious woman who recited the Bible by heart, he taught himself to read by comparing the text from their copy of the Bible (acquired by his father, the only literate man in the village) and what he heard from his mother, at the age of twelve.

At the age of 16, a master stone cutter from Split Pavle Bilinić noticed his talent and he took him as an apprentice. His artistic skills were improved by watching the monumental buildings in the city and his education by the gracious help 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. Ivan had to quickly learn German from scratch and adjust to the new environment, but he persevered and successfully finished his studies.

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Indian, Chicago IL

In 1905 he made his first exhibit with the Secession Group in Vienna, noticeably influenced with the Art Nouveau style. His work quickly became popular, even with the likes of Auguste Rodin, and he soon earned enough for him and his wife (since 1904) Ruža Klein to travel to more international exhibitions.

In 1908 he moved to Paris and the sculptures made in this period earned him international reputaton. In 1911 he moved to Belgrade, and soon after to Rome where he received the grand prix for the Serbian Pavilion on the 1911 Rome International Exhibition. He remained in Rome to spend four years studying ancient Greek sculpture.

In the onset of the World War I, after the assassination in Sarajevo, Meštrović tried to move back to Split via Venice, but was dissuaded by threats made because of his political opposition to the Austro-Hungarian authorities. During the war he also travelled to make exhibits in Paris, Cannes, London and in Switzerland. He was one of the members of the Yugoslav Committee.

After the WWI he moved back home to the newly formed Yugoslavia and met the second love of his life, Olga Kesterčanek, whom he married shortly after. They had three children, three of which were born in Zagreb where they settled in 1922. They 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 proceeded to build numerous internationally renowned works as well as many donated chapels and churches and grants to art students.

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Supplicant Persephone, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

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.

Being in conflict with both the Italians (since he opposed their irredentism for Dalmatia) and the Germans (since he declined Hitler's invitation to Berlin in the 1930s), he was briefly imprisoned by the Ustaše during the World War II. With help from the Vatican he was released for Venice and Rome, later to Switzerland. Unfortunately not all of his family managed to escape -- his first wife Ruža died in 1942 and many from her Jewish family were killed in the Holocaust. Later, his brother Petar was imprisoned by the emerging Communists, which further depressed the artist.

Marshall Tito's Yugoslavia invited Meštrović back but he refused to live in a communist country. In 1946 the Syracuse University offered him professorship and he moved to the United States.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower personally presided over a ceremony granting Meštrović the American citizenship in 1954. He went on to be a professor at the University of Notre Dame in 1955.

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History of the Croats, a closeup on the face

Before he died, Meštrović returned to Yugoslavia one last time in order to visit the imprisoned Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and Tito himself. At the request of various people from his homeland he sent 59 statues from the United States to Yugoslavia (including the monument of Njegoš), and in 1952 even signed off his Croatian estates to the people, including over 400 sculptures and numerous drawings.

Ultimately, it would be the death of his children that would cause his own. His daughter Marta who moved with him to the US died at the age of 24 in 1949; his son Tvrtko who remained in Zagreb died in 1961. He created four clay sculptures to commemorate his children's death, and a few months later, Ivan Meštrović died at the age of 79 in South Bend, Indiana. According to his own wishes, he was transferred to be buried a mausoleum in Otavice.


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Job, Syracuse University, NY
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Moses, Syracuse University, NY

He created over fifty monuments during his two years in Paris (1908-1910). The theme of the Serbian Battle of Kosovo particularly moved him, prompting one of his first great works, the Paris Kosovo Monument, and other works in bronze and stone. A lot of his early work revolved around such epic moments from Slavic history in an attempt to foster the pan-Slavic cause in his native country that was under Austro-Hungarian rule.

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 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, acts, portraits.

His most famous monuments include:

Monument to Unknown Hero, ,
Monument to Unknown Hero, Avala, Belgrade
Victor, Belgrade
Victor, Belgrade

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
  • the People's Museum in Belgrade which holds monuments such as Miloš Obilić, Kosovo girl, Srđa Zlopogleđa, Kraljević Marko, Widow.


  • Agard, Walter Raymond, The New Architectural Sculpture, Oxford University Press, NY, NY 1935
  • Aumonier, W., Modern Architectural Sculpture, The Architectural Press, London 1930
  • Casson, Stanley, Some Modern Sculptors, Oxford University Press, London 1929
  • Exhibition of Twenty-Five Panels, Hendricks Chapel, Syracuse University1950*
  • Exploring the Mayo Art Collection, Mayo Foundation, Rochester, Minnesota
  • Goode, James M. The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C. 1974
  • Keckemet, Dusko, Ivan Mestrovic, Publishing House, Beograd, Jugoslavija 1964
  • Keckemet, Dusko, Ivan Mestrovic Split, Mestrovic Gallery Split and Spektar Zagreb, Yugoslavia 1969
  • Keckemet, Dusko, Ivan Mestrovic, McGraw-Hill Book Company, NY, NY 1970
  • Kvaran, Einar Einarsson Architectural Sculpture of America, unpublished manuscript
  • Maryon, Herbert, Modern Sculpture Its Methods and Ideals, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, LTD. London 1933
  • Schmeckebier, Laurence, Ivan Mestrovic Sculptor and Patriot, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY 1959
  • The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C. Americas Tribute to Mary, C. Harrison Conroy Co. In., Newton NJ

External link

hr:Ivan Meštrović sr:Иван Мештровић


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