Five Facts About Croatian Sculptor Ivan Meštrović

Lauren Simmonds

croatian sculptor ivan Meštrović
Commons/Wikimedia/George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

December the 6th, 2023 – One of the most celebrated figures in this country is Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, who was also a prominent writer and architect.

In two years spent in Paris, he created over 50 monuments

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Between the years of 1908 and 1910, Meštrović lived in the French capital. One of his first highly impressive works encompassed the Battle of Kosovo, which left a great impression on him. Despite the fact that his works are very numerous and some later ones have gained much more prominence in the years that have followed, the Paris Kosovo Movement still stands out for its glory.

He’s an honorary citizen of Drniš

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Drniš, a town in the Dalmatian hinterland in Šibenik-Knin County known for its prosciutto and for being associated with composer Krsto Odak, named Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović an honorary citizen back in 2013. He spent a great deal of his childhood in the town, and it seemed fitting to honour the sculptor by granting him such a status.

He visited both Cardinal Stepinac and Tito on his final visit to the former Yugoslavia

History of Croats (1932) – Bernard Gagnon

Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović did make one final, pained trip back to his homeland before he died. During this final visit, he visited both Cardinal Stepinac, who had helped him so selflessly and for whom he had campaigned for release in America, and Josip Broz Tito. These two individuals could not have been further apart from each other on the tumultuous political spectrum that had dominated the region during the Second World War and the aftermath.

Imprisoned at the time, Meštrović’s visit to Stepinac and ongoing fight to see him freed likely meant a lot to the cardinal. In 1952, he signed off any Croatian property he owned to the Croatian people. This included art and sculptures – more than 400 of them to be precise.

After that visit, which was to be his last, he promised never to return home again for as long as the Communist Party remained in power.

President Dwight Eisenhower personally presided over Meštrović’s US citizenship ceremony

CGP Grey

Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović eventually moved to the United States, but the journey wasn’t a simple one. The process of his estrangement from Croatia began after he was warned by a minister of the NDH (Independent State of Croatia), Mile Budak, that he couldn’t guarantee his safety in Split after the Ustasa regime had taken up government. This warning prompted his relocation to Zagreb, but the move saw him thrown from the frying pan into the fire. He was arrested by the authorities as it was assumed he would likely try to leave Croatia. After serving over three months in prison, his release was negotiated by Cardinal Stepinac, who even involved the Vatican in the process.

Seeing that Budak’s warning had been true not only of Split, but apparently also Zagreb, Meštrović quickly headed to Rome upon being released. He then headed to Switzerland. Meštrović’s family, and the family of his first wife, Ruza, (who died in 1942) suffered as a consequence of deep tensions in Croatia and across the region. Many members of Ruza’s family, who were Jewish, perished during the Holocaust. His brother, Petar, was also thrown in prison for warning Ivan not to return to the country.

1945 came, Dr. Ante Pavelic, the poglavnik (leader) of the NDH, scarpered, and as Germany fell – so did the Axis nations, Croatia being among them. As the political situation shifted, Josip Broz Tito invited Meštrović to return. Meštrović refused on political grounds and an attempt to coerce him with a cushy position in return for total allegiance with the Communist Party.

He was offered a professorship in the USA in 1946 and emigrated, becoming a naturalised US citizen in 1954. So utterly impressed by the sculptor and his plight, President Dwight Eisenshower himself presided over his citizenship ceremony.

He was the first artist of Croatian origin to have an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

After being offered a job as a professor by Syracuse University and moving to the United States, he began contributing to Hrvatska revija/Croatian review, a journal written by and for Croatian emigrants, displaced across the world by political upheaval. That same publication eventually published Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović’s memoirs, one of which was the poignant Reminiscences of political people and events. This outlet served as a connection to his homeland for which he felt a deep anguish and sorrow, a feeling shared by a great many Croatian emigrants who had dispersed, settling in a wide variety of countries and vowing to never return.

His other prominent activities in the USA involved campaigns to free Cardinal Stepinac, and being chosen to become a professor at the Notre Dame University in Indiana, the state in which Meštrović’s life eventually ended in 1962.

Of all of his various personal and professional activities that took place across the pond, the fact that he was the very first artist of Croatian origin to have an exhibition of their works at New York City’s prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art is perhaps the most impressive.


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