Meet Zagreb through the Art of Ivan Meštrović

Paul Bradbury

Photo credit: Zagreb Tourist Board

October 22, 2023 – The bond between Ivan Meštrović and Zagreb is about to get stronger with a new exhibition at Klovićevi dvori Gallery, starting next month.

Take a walk around Ivan Meštrović’s Zagreb.

He is one of the world’s greatest sculptors, the first Croat to exhibit his works at Victoria & Albert Museum in London and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Even though Ivan Meštrović was born in Slavonia and lived in Split, his life and work were tied to Zagreb as well.

About Ivan Meštrović

Born into a poor family in Slavonia in 1983, his family moved to Otavice in Dalmatia, where his family was originally from. His talent was recognised by a master of stonemasonry in Spllit when he was sixteen, Pavle Bilinić, who also found a mine owner in Vienna to finance Meštrović’s studies at the Academy of Fine Arts there, where he also had his first exhibition in 1905 with the Secession Group. His work became immensely popular – it even caught the eye of the great Auguste Rodin, who said that Meštrović was a better sculptor than he was. He got married to his first wife, Ruža Klein, in 1904.

Meštrović first moved to Zagreb in 1911, and then he lived in Paris and Rome. When WWI broke out, he wanted to go back to Split, but it was too dangerous because he was opposed to the Austro-Hungarian authorities.
After the war, he met his second wife, Olga Kesterčanek, and they moved to Zagreb in 1922, where they spent their winters, and they moved to Split in summer.

Ivan Meštrović worked as a professor and then became the director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. He spent three and a half months in prison in Zagreb when during the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) regime because they feared him and painter Jozo Kljaković would flee the country. He was released thanks to Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, whom he later made a relief for.

Ivan Meštrovic.jpg
Wikimedia Commons

Meštrović then moved away to Rome, then Switzerland, before finally being offered a professorship at the Syracuse University in the USA. He was awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Gold Medal for sculpture and President Dwight D. Eisenhower personally presided over the ceremony granting Meštrović American citizenship in 1954.

Before he died, Meštrović went back to Yugoslavia once, to visit the imprisoned Cardinal Stepinac and meet with Tito.

He died in Indiana in 1961 and left his Croatian estates (more than 400 sculptures and numerous drawings) to the people of Croatia.

He is buried in a mausoleum in his childhood home of Otavice.

Ivan Meštrović and Zagreb

Now, you probably know about the Well of Life because it’s the most famous work of his in the capital, but there are numerous other sculptures by Meštrović scattered around Zagreb.

Wikimedia Commons

In addition, the designed the Meštrović Pavillion, and his former home is now an Upper Town museum (Meštrović Atelier) you can visit.

His works in Zagreb include all periods of his life – from early student days to adult age, include various styles – from Impressionism and Symbolism, to Art Nouveau and Neoclassicism. 

Most sculptures represent people from Croatian history, and symbolic and allegoric topics, frequently portraying women and motherhood.

His sculptures are milestones for some of the most important institutions in the city: scientific (Ruđer Bošković Institute), higher education (Faculty of Law), medical (Andrija Štampar Institute), religious (St. Mark’s Church), museums (Art Pavillion, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts). This way, his works are incorporated in and intertwined with the life of the city.

 You can find a map of his works below, so use this beautiful afternoon to go on a tour and see some of the works created by this brilliant sculptor.

Ivan Meštrović exhibition at Klovićevi dvori Gallery (November 2023-March 2024)

And this autumn will see an even stronger connection between Ivan Meštrović and Zagreb, in the form of a dedicated exhibition in his honour at Klovićevi dvori Gallery (November 2023-March 2024). More details on the museum website and trailer video below.


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