Ivan MeStroviC


Belgrade, 1928

Mestrovic was born in Vrpolje in Slavonia. He spent his childhood in Otavice, in Dalmatia , the birthplace of his parents. In his childhood as a shepherd he was under the influence of national epic legends and ballades. At the age of sixteen, a master stone cutter from Split Pavle Bilinic 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 Bilinic's wife, who was a high-school teacher. Soon, they found a mine owner from Vienna who paid for Mestrovic 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.

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 Mestrovic moved to Paris and the sculptures made in this period earned him international reputation. in this time, Ivan was friend of the cubist painter Jelena Dorotka (Helene Dorotka von Ehrenwall). 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, Mestrovic 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 four children: Marta, Tvrtko, Maria and Mate, all of who were born in Zagreb, where they settled in 1922. He was a contemporary and friend of Nikola Tesla . Mestrovic 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 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 Račic family at Cavtat, and he also created a set of statues for a never-built Yugoslav national temple that would be erected in Kosovo to commemorate the battle that happened there in 1389.

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 irredentist territorial pursuit of Dalmatia) and the Germans (since he declined Hitler's invitation to Berlin in the 1930s), he was imprisoned for three and a half months by the Ustase during World War II. With help from the Vatican he was released. He traveled to Venice and Rome, and 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 government in Yugoslavia eventually invited Mestrovic back, but he refused to live in a communist country.

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 Mestrovic American citizenship. He went on to become a professor at the University of Notre Dame in 1955.

Before he died, Mestrovic returned to Yugoslavia one last time in order to visit the imprisoned Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and Tito himself.

After creating four clay sculptures to memorialize his children, Ivan Mestrovic died in early 1962 at the age of 79, in South Bend, Indiana. In accordance with his wishes, his remains were transferred to a mausoleum in his childhood home of Otavice.