The wellsprings of and the promptings for Meštrović’s creative idiom, as well as the heterogeneous stylistic determinants that characters his creative works are to be found in the trends in the art of the early twentieth century, particularly in the Viennese Secession, or Art Nouveau, as well as in antique and Renaissance sculpture, and the sculpting done by the medieval craftsmen of Dalmatia.
With his outstanding talent and his rich oeuvre of almost a thousand sculptures, Meštrović is undoubtedly the leading Croatian sculptor of the 20th century; a sculptor who worked hard to establish the tradition of Croatian sculpting in the modern age, and one of the few artists from the country whose work was recognized internationally in his own time.
Meštrović was born in 1883 in Slavonia, but spent his childhood in the village of Otavice, near Drniš, in the hinterland of Dalmatia. He started to learn the stone mason’s trade with Pavao Bilinić in Split. With the help of Viennese industrialist Alexander König, in 1900 he went off to Vienna to be educated, attending evening classes in elementary school. In 1901 he became a full student at the Academy of Fine Arts, in the architecture department, a student in the class of Friedrich Ohmann, during which time he also attended lectures by Otto Wagner.
With the help of Karl Wittgenstein, a Viennese manufacturer and patron of the arts, he went to Paris, settling down there in 1908, in a period when he started to be absorbed in the mythology of the national history, and, at the visual level, by a turn to stylised and monumental sculpting.
Around 1913 he started to create sculptures based on religious themes, and some of his most successful works are wooden reliefs that were created during the war. In 1914 he exhibited solo at the 11th Venice Biennale; he emigrated to Italy and began living in Rome. He spent time in Paris, Geneva and Cannes in 1916 and 1917. He taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb and Syracuse University in New York, USA.