Thursday, January 16, 2014


Picture from here
Before our trip to the Balkans, I had never even heard the name of Ivan Mestrovic, but by the time we had made our loop through eight countries and returned to Zagreb, he was an old friend. We had been introduced to him in Novi Sad, Serbia, got to know him a bit more in Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia, and again outside the palace walls, and then reconnected with him in Zagreb's Cathedral of the Assumption and  St. Mark's Cathedral.

We were excited to learn that his Zagreb home and studio complex, which he bought in 1920 and lived and worked in between the two World Wars, is now a museum:

Mestrovic was born in 1883 to Croatian peasants and spent his childhood as a shepherd. He taught himself to read at age 12, and at age 16 he was apprenticed to a master stone cutter. A year later he was sent to Vienna to study at the Academy of Fine Arts during a period when Art Nouveau was flourishing, and five years later, in 1905, he had his first exhibit with the Secessionists in Vienna. (Scroll to the bottom of the linked post to learn more about the Secessionist movement.)

During the next decade he spend time in Paris, where he established an international reputation, and then four years in Rome, where he studied ancient Greek sculpture, a style that shows up later in some of his work. At the beginning of World War I he adopted a primarily religious theme for his work, and he has been called the greatest sculptor of religious themes since the Renaissance.

After the war he settled in Zagreb with his wife and children. In the 1920s he exhibited in the United States, first in New York City and then in Chicago.

When World War II broke out, Mestrovic was an outspoken critic of the new regime, and he was imprisoned in 1941, spending 3 1/2 months in a cell before Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac and the Vatican negotiated his release. He agreed to stay within the Axis empire, but in 1943 he got a visa for Switzerland and left the country. Later, Tito invited him to return to Yugoslavia, but Mestrovic refused to live in a communist country.

In 1946 he took a professorship at Syracuse University, and that same year he became the first artist ever to have a one-man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  In 1954 he became a US citizen in a ceremony in the White House presided over by President Eisenhower, and the following year he accepted a professorship at the University of Notre Dame. He died in 1962 at age 79.

A lot of Mestrovic's work is on display in his home/atelier, and I've organized my photos by theme rather than chronology. I've put the title, location, and date in the captions of those I can identify. I think Mestrovic's broad talent can be appreciated by juxtaposing the various styles that he experimented with. Some of the pieces are models for other works or copies. They were donated, along with the house and studo, by Mestrovic to his Croatian homeland before he died.

Sculpture garden:
History of the Croats, Zagreb, 1932

Mother Thinking, Zagreb, 1930
Side view
The Artist's Mother, Hands Clasped Before Her Breast, Zagreb 1930
Head of a Woman, Paris, 1909
Girl Playing the Violin, Rome, 1918
Birth, 1930
Olga Mestrovic Feeding Tvrtko, Zagreb, 1925
(The artist's wife and child)
Vera Cuca Milcinovic Portrait, Zagreb, 1906
Young Man Thinking, London, 1915
Srda Zlopogleda, Paris, 1908
Head of an Old Man with a Beard, 1904
The Artist at Work, Auguste Rodin, Rome, 1914
The Warrior, Rome 1911
Large Relief of Michelangelo, New York, 1926
Another view of Michelangelo
Mother Teaching a Child to Pray, New York, 1925

Large Relief of Job, Zagreb, 1932
St. Roche, Dubrovnik, 1922
Madonna and Jesus, Cannes, 1917
Our Lady and Child Visiting Little John, Belgrade, 1913
Christ on the Cross,
Dubrovnik, 1942
First Crucifixion, Rome, 1914
Eternal Crucifix, Zagreb, 1930
Remember the Pieta in St. Mark's dimly-lit church that I longed to see in better light?  I was thrilled to discover a copy of it at the Atelier. It is beautiful. Christ's slumped body is limp and lifeless in Mary's arms:
Pieta for St. Mark's Church, Zagreb, 1932
And her face, pressed against her son's cheek in a mother's kiss, looks old and grief-stricken:

Mestrovic's contemporary, mentor, and fellow Secessionist, Auguste Rodin, said that Mestrovic, known in art circles as "the Maestro," was the "greatest phenomenon amongst the sculptors of the world."
Self-Portrait, Zagreb, 1930
I am so glad we got acquainted.


  1. I always find these stories of people who arise from obscurity to discover their gift and use it so brilliantly to be so interesting. How does the son of peasants realize he has such talent and find the path to develop it?

  2. It was fun to see so many of his works and then to actually see his studio. I really love what he does with hands.

  3. Beautiful sculpture tour, and I was interested to see how his shaped appeared to become more drawn out and exaggerated as he aged, yielding fascinating results. Thanks for the post!