(Vrpolje, August 15, 1883 – South Bend, Indiana, USA, January 16, 1962)
World-known Croatian sculptor, creator of numerous works of literature and architecture as well, and participant of important events in politics
He spent his childhood in the village of Otavice near Drniš, looking after the sheep, and carving in wood and stone. When his talent for art was noticed, he started working in the carving workshop of Harold Bilinić in Split, and then was sent to Vienna. There he completed a course of studies, making at the same time his celebrated Fountain of Life, now placed in front of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb.
Young Meštrović made a major reputation between 1903 and 1910 with the artists of the Vienna Secession. Most of his early works are Symbolist in their meaning; after the first exhibition, 1905, he became extremely popular and took part in various world Exhibitions.
Epic works were created in his studio in Paris: myth and symbol were at that time part not only of the national but also of the European, particularly the Art Nouveau, intellectual climate; such works exhibited in Vienna and Zagreb in 1910 aroused great interest and in the Rome World Exhibition of 1911 he won the first prize for sculpture.
After World War I he returned to Zagreb (in 1922) and became a professor at the Art College and built his own place of work, today’s Meštrović Studio, a memorial environment with a permanent display of the artist’s works; he spent the summer months in the family palace, made in the 1930s, today the Ivan Meštrović Gallery in Split.
Meštrović travelled around the world and exhibited his works; in Chicago for example there are two equestrian sculptures of his – the monument to the Indians (1928); in their numbers, their individual cogency and their spatial communicativeness, the sculptures in public make up a whole chapter of his art.
During World War II, Meštrović went to Rome (in 1942), then to Switzerland and ultimately settled down in the USA, where he dedicated himself to teaching at the University of Syracuse, NY, and then in Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana; in 1954, he completed a cycle of wooden reliefs, started almost forty years earlier, on the theme of the Life of Christ, and donated them for display to the Chapel of Holy Cross in Kaštelet in Split.
Meštrović was not only sculptor and architect, but was also busy as a writer. He published the treatise My Conversations with Michelangelo (1926), the memoir Several Memories of Rodin (1937) and the book Recollections of Political People and Events (Buenos Aires, 1961; Zagreb, 1969).
Meštrović gifted most of his works to the Croatian people (in 1952): the structures in Zagreb and Split and the Church of the Most Sacred Redeemer in Otavice (where at his own wish he was interred). In 1991, pursuant to a deed of gift, the Ivan Meštrović Foundation was set up.