IVAN MESTROVIC
(Vrpolje, Croatia, 1883 - South Bend, USA, 1962)

 
 


Ivan Mestrovic spent his childhood in Otavice, a poor village of Dalmatinska Zagora. He also spent a year (1900) as an apprentice in Harald Bilinicís stonemasonís workshop in Split and then went to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (1901-1906), just as the secession movement was reaching its peak.
Ivan Mestrovicís style changed several times and he engaged in many activities: he was a sculptor, the author of several architectonic and literary works, and a participant in important political events.
The young Mestrovic was affirmed as an artist between 1903 and 1910, through his group exhibitions with the Viennese group of artists - Secession. Most of his early works were highly symbolic (The Fountain of Life, 1905).

In 1908, Mestrovic hired an atelier in Paris and there he created his epically emphatic works. Myth and symbol were important elements not only of the national, but also of the European spiritual climate, especially during the secession period. Works of that orientation were exhibited in 1910 in Vienna and Zagreb and awoke much interest when displayed at the world exhibition in Rome in 1911, where Mestrovic won the first prize for sculpture.

 
Ivan Mestrovic during his studies, Vienna, 1904


Ivan Mestrovic in London, 1915; photograph: E.O. Hoppť

 


Just before the outbreak of the First World War, Mestrovic abandoned his epical stylisation and tuned to religious themes. He began his cycle of large wooden reliefs. The happier tones appeared only at the end of the war, in the theme of a woman with an instrument. Ivan Mestrovic enjoyed the artistic prestige in many Europen centres for more than two decades before returning to his native country. The Racic family burial chapel in Cavtat, built between 1920 and 1923, announced a new and fertile phase. He settled in Zagreb, where he adapted a house (1921-1924) and built an atelier. The construction later became the Mestrovic Atelier, a memorial area with the permanent display of the artist's works. His work of the third decade was marked by more expressive classical shapes, especially in female nudes. That was also the period of his public monuments, such as the Monument of Bishop Gregory of Nin (Split, Varazdin, Nin).

Some of his monuments were built outside Croatia, for example his monument to Indians (two equestrian sculptures), erected in the Central Grant Park in Chicago in 1928. Numerous, of a great individual design, and successfully communicating with their environment, public monuments form a special chapter in the book of Mestrovic's art.


At that time, Mestrovic built the family vault near Otavice, intending it to be The Most Holy Redeemer Church. During the fourth decade of his artistic life, he also renovated the old Kastelet in Split (Crikvine) and built the family palace, today the Ivan Mestrovic Gallery. In 1938, he carried out another building project, that of the House of Visual Arts in Zagreb. That round building is an important and prominent work of Croatian modern architecture. Mestrovic left for Rome in 1942, then he lived in Switzerland in 1943, and in the USA in 1947. Those difficult times inspired him to create his highly expressive Job (1946). While in the USA, he was noted for his pedagogical activities at the Syracuse University, the state of New York, and at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. In 1954, he finished his Christ-inspired cycle of wooden reliefs, started almost forty years before. He donated that unique artistic unit and it was put on display in The Holy Crucifix Chapel in Kastelet, Split.


 
Ivan Mestrovic, South Bend, Indiana, USA, 1960

Ivan Mestrovic published several literary works, among others the treatise Dialogues with Michelangelo (1926), the memoirs A Few Memories of Rodin (1937), and the book Memories of Political Figures and Events (Buenos Aires, 1961; Zagreb, 1969).
In 1952, Mestrovic donated to the Croatian people most of his works, his premises and buildings in Zagreb and Split, and The Most Holy Redeemer Church in Otavice (where he was later buried, as was his wish). On the bases of that deed of donation, the Ivan Mestrovic Foundation was established in 1991.
 
     
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