Certainly the most powerful European artist in the first half of the 20th century was sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, whose talent took him from the position of a shepherd boy to the very top position place in the art world.
Ivan Mestrovic was born in 1883. in the town of Vrpolje in Slavonia, but he spend his childhood in Otavice, a small village in Dalmatian hinterland. As a child Mestrovic tended sheep while listening of orally transmitted epics, folk songs and historical ballads and this inspired him to crave heroic and heroic deeds in wood and stone. His father had been Hajduk (outlaws who defended people from the Turks), also he was the only literate man in the village. His family where very religious people, his mother recited Gospel parables from the memory almost every night, and his father had a Bible (only book in the house which helped Ivan to learned how to read and write).
At age of 16 Ivan M. went to Split to live and work in a workshop of a stone cutter-Pavle Bilinic. He took him as an apprentice but his artistic skills improved in only one year with lots of help of Bilinic wife (high school teacher), and by watching the monumental buildings in the city of Split. With help of mine owner from Vienna he went to Academy of Fine Arts. He had to quickly learn from scratch and adjust to the new environment, but he persevered and successfully finished his studies.
During his studies he met Ruza Klein, child of a Jewish merchant, who never excepted her relationship with Ivan M., because he was a poor village boy, and he purse her from the house. In 1904. they got married, but they never had children.
For the first time in 1905 he exhibited his works with the group of Viennese Secession artists, where he exhibited his first work of art Well of life. His work quickly became popular, so he earned enough money to travel to more international exhibitions. Mestrovic stayed in Paris on several occasions, and in 1908. he rented the artist studio in Montparnasse, in only two years he exectude over fifty sculptures, and became international success. 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. The heroes that fought the Turks in the famous Kosovo battle in 1389 came to life again in bronze and stone. He presented them to the European public as symbols of the patriotic aspiration and striving of the southern Slavs towards freedom and independence this time from the Austro- Hungarian oppressors.
He remained in Rome to spend four years studying ancient Greek sculpture.
Before World War I he directed himself towards religious motifs.
No sooner then the end of the war where more serene tones observed on a theme of a women playing musical instruments.
After War he went back to
Zagreb, where he got job as professor and later the director of the Art Institute in
Zagreb, and proceeded to
build numerous internationally renowned works as well as many donated
and churches and grants to art students. During that time he met his
wife Olga, with who he has four children (Marta, Tvrtko, Marija and
In the period beetwen two World Wars when he was amased by Michaelangelo, he made large number of stone relifes, naked figures and potraits. The most famous is the monument of Grgur Ninski in Split. He continued to travel to post his exhibits around the world, especcialy in America, where he made monument to the Indians at Grand Park in Chicago in 1928.At this time Ivan M. build the family mausoleum in Otavice conceived as the Church of the Redeemer. He build the mansion in Split for him and his family, mostly as the family residence and his atelier, later on became gallery. On January 31st 1952, the Government of the People’s Republic of Croatia signed a bequest agreement with Meštrović by which the artist donated to “the people and county of Croatia” residential houses in Zagreb and Split, the family mausoleum in Otavice and works according to enclosed lists. This bequest gave the Meštrović Gallery in Split ownership of 70 sculptures, including a considerable number of Meštrović’s best known works. The first exhibition at the Gallery in 1957 contained some 120 works, some that were owned by the Gallery and some owned by Meštrović. The exhibition in 1983 numbered some 200 exhibits, 137 of them owned by the Gallery, namely almost double the number from the bequest. That is to say that the sculptor’s bequest laid out the basic framework for the Gallery, which received additions to its holdings through the continuing care on the part of the artist and his family, as well as those in charge of the Gallery. Some of the plaster sculptures were, either in arrangement with the author, or later with his widow and daughter, executed in stone or bronze in order to preserve them from decay.Today, the holdings contain 192 sculptures, 583 drawings, 4 paintings, 291 architectonic plans (almost entirely made by Ivan Mestrovic and dating between 1898 and 1961), and 2 furniture sets, one of which is made according to Mestrovic's sketches and is a part of the New Permanent Display of the former dining room. The Ivan Mestrovic Gallery houses not only works owned by it, but also 168 works of art owned by Ivan Mestrovic's heirs. Apart form the museum holdings, the Gallery collects documentation relating to Ivan Mestrovic's life and work. Especially interesting items are the photographs of the artist's first works (taken at the beginning of the century in Vienna and in 1908 and 1909 in Paris) and the archive material. There is the family archive found in the house in 1952, containing letters of the family members and friends, as well astheir personal documents, and the archive of the builder M. Marasovic
Meštrović Gallery in Split
Cyclops, bronze, 1933
by the sea, bronze, 1926
Distant chords, bronze, 1919
My Mother, bronze,1909
The Katunaric family, bronze, 1906
Ruza Mestrovic, bronze, 1915
After he finished his mansion he restored the old Kastelet (convent). On this place he preserved a 16th-century chapel and erected a new one, much larger. In this Chapel of the Holy Cross, Mestrovic intended to put 28 wooden reliefs of the life of Christ and a crucifix on permanent display. He had begun working on this series in 1917 and did not finish until 1954.
The purpose of the chapel where are the wooden relifes is to be served for mass ceremony on the old slavic languange, what was also wish of Mestrovic.The east part of the Kastelet-Crikvine complex with the older Chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel and an adjoining loggia with stone inventory, added during the adaptation, is an integral part of the artist’s design and concept and should be considered in the context of the whole complex. A combination of authentic building styles of the centuries passed and recent sculptor’s interventions, perfectly integrated into the Mediterranean landscape of the south slope of Marjan, transformed the Kastelet-Crikvine complex into a different, more intimate variety of the Split experience.
wooden relief of the life of Christ
wooden relief of the life of Christ
During the war he was briefly imprisoned by the Ustaše during the 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. After the World War II Marshall Tito 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.
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, 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