Ivan Me?trovi? in Zagreb in 1928
|Died||16 January 1962 (aged 78)|
South Bend, Indiana, U.S.
|Resting place||Otavice, Croatia|
|Alma mater||Academy of Fine Arts Vienna|
|Movement||Art Nouveau, symbolism, Vienna Secession|
(m. 1907; div. 1925)
(m. 1928; his death 1962)
|Children||4, including Mate Me?trovi?|
|Relatives||Stjepan Me?trovi? (grandson)|
|Awards||American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal (1956)|
He was the most prominent sculptor of Croatian modern sculpture and a leading personality of artistic life in Zagreb. He studied at the Pavle Bilini?'s Stone Workshop in Split and at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, where he was formed under the influence of the Secession. He traveled throughout Europe and studied the works of ancient and Renaissance masters, especially Michelangelo, and French sculptors A. Rodin, A. Bourdelle and A. Maillola. He was the initiator of the national-romantic group Meduli? (he advocated the creation of art of national features inspired by the heroic folk songs). During the First World War, he lived in emigration. After the war, he returned to Croatia and began a long and fruitful period of sculpture and pedagogical work. In 1942 he emigrated to Italy, in 1943 to Switzerland and in 1947 to the United States. He was a professor of sculpture at the Syracuse University and from 1955 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
Most of his early works of symbolic themes were formed in the spirit of the Secession, some of which, like the Well of Life, show impressionist restless surfaces created under the influence of Rodin's naturalism, and the second, reviving national myth, become stylized monumental plastics (Kosovo cycle, 1908-1910). Before the First World War, he left pathetic epic stylization, expressing increasingly emotional states, as evidenced by the wooden reliefs of biblical themes made in a combination of Archaic, Gothic, Secessionist and Expressionist styles. During the 1920s and 1930s, the classical component prevailed in his works. In this period, he created a number of public monuments of strong plastic expression, pronounced and legible shapes (Grgur Ninski and Marko Maruli? in Split, Andrija Meduli?, Andrija Ka?i?-Mio?i? and Josip Juraj Strossmayer in Zagreb, The Bowman and The Spearman in Chicago). Portraits take a special place in his opus.
Me?trovi? achieved works of strong plastic value in the construction-sculptural monuments and projects, mostly with central layout (the Mausoleum of the Ra?i? family in Cavtat, the Mausoleum of the Me?trovi? family in Otavice, the Me?trovi? Pavilion in Zagreb, Monument to the Unknown Hero in Belgrade). He also designed a memorial church of King Zvonimir in Biskupija near Knin inspired by old Croatian churches, a representative family palace, today the Ivan Me?trovi? Gallery, and reconstructed renaissance fortified mansion Crikvine-Ka?tilac in Split.
He was born in Vrpolje, Slavonia, and spent his childhood in the small Dalmatian village of Otavice, the native place of his parents in the Dinaric Alps. His father was a poor peasant and sheep-breeder. At the age of sixteen he was accepted as an apprentice by Pavle Blini?, a master of a stonemasonry in Split.
His artistic skills were improved by studying the monumental buildings in the city and his education at the hands of Bilini?'s wife, who was a high-school teacher. Soon, they found a mine owner from Vienna who paid for Me?trovi? to move there and be admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts where he studied under Edmund von Hellmer and Otto Wagner. Quickly he had to learn German from scratch and adjust to the new environment, but he persevered and successfully finished his studies.
In 1905 he had his first exhibit with the Secession Group in Vienna, noticeably influenced by the Art Nouveau style. His work quickly became popular, even with the likes of Auguste Rodin who once said that Me?trovi? is the greatest phenomenon among sculptors and even greater sculptor than he was. Because of that popularity he soon earned enough for him and his wife (since 1904), Ru?a Klein, to travel to more international exhibitions.
In 1908 Me?trovi? moved to Paris and the sculptures made in this period earned him international reputation. At this time, Ivan was a friend of the cubist painter Jelena Dorotka (Helene Dorotka von Ehrenwall). In 1911 he moved to Zagreb, and soon after to Rome where he received the grand prix for the Serbian Pavilion on the 1911 Rome International Exhibition. There his work was praised as being strong and monumental compared to the "soft and ineffectual" pieces exhibited by his contemporaries, Hugo Lederer, Anton Hanak, and Franz Metzner. He remained in Rome, spending four years studying ancient Greek sculpture.
Me?trovi? became a supporter of Yugoslavism and Yugoslav identity after he traveled to Serbia and became impressed with Serb culture. Me?trovi? created a sculpture of Serbian folk-legend hero Prince Marko at the International Exhibition in Rome in 1911, when asked about the statue, Me?trovi? replied "This Marko is our Yugoslav people with its gigantic and noble heart". Me?trovi? wrote poetry speaking of a "Yugoslav race". Those who knew Me?trovi?'s views referred to him as "The Prophet of Yugoslavism".
At the onset of World War I, after the assassination in Sarajevo, Me?trovi? tried to move back to Split via Venice, but was dissuaded by threats made against him because of his political opposition to the Austro-Hungarian authorities. During the war he travelled to present exhibits in Paris, Cannes, London and in Switzerland. He was one of the members of the Yugoslav Committee.
After World War I he moved back home to the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and met the second love of his life, Olga Kester?anek, whom he married shortly thereafter. They had four children: Marta, Tvrtko, Maria and Mate, all of whom were born in Zagreb, where Ivan and Olga settled in 1922. He was a contemporary and friend of Nikola Tesla. Me?trovi? and his 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 Academy of Fine Arts 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 Ra?i? Family Memorial Chapel in Cavtat, also known as Our Lady of the Angels. He also created a set of statues for a never-built Yugoslav national temple that would have been erected in Kosovo to commemorate the Battle of Kosovo 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. In 1927 he entered a design for the coins of the Irish Free State, and though his design arrived too late for consideration it was adopted in 1965 as the seal of the Central Bank of Ireland.
During the April War in 1941 Me?trovi? was living in Split. After being warned by novelist and Independent State of Croatia (NDH) minister Mile Budak that the Croatian authorities could not guarantee his safety in Split, he moved to Zagreb in September 1941. Me?trovi? and painter Jozo Kljakovi? were arrested by the Usta?e in Zagreb on 7 November 1941, ostensibly due to the regime's fears that the two would emigrate. He eventually served three and a half months in the Savska Cesta prison. With help from archbishop Aloysius Stepinac and subsequently the Vatican he was released, on condition that he travel to Venice to attend the Independent State of Croatia pavilion at the Venice Biennale. From there he relocated to Rome, where he stayed and worked at the Pontifical Croatian College of St. Jerome. He was sponsored here by Fra Dominik Mandi?, and during his time in the city was received by Pope Pius XII. In July 1943, Me?trovi? secured a visa to Switzerland through NDH diplomat Stijepo Peri? and moved there. Not all of his family managed to escape -- his first wife Ru?a died in 1942 and many from her Jewish family were murdered in the Holocaust. Later, his brother Petar was imprisoned by the Communists for publicly advising Ivan not to return to the country. Marshal Josip Broz Tito's government in Yugoslavia eventually invited Me?trovi? to return, but he refused to do so. In 1946, Syracuse University offered him a professorship, and he moved to the United States. He became the first artist of Croatian origin to exhibit his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1947.
From 1951 he began making contributions to the Croatian emigrant journal Hrvatska revija, which would later publish his memoirs. 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 Me?trovi? American citizenship. He went on to become a professor at the University of Notre Dame in 1955.
At the end of January 1951 Me?trovi? joined the American campaign for the release of Archbishop Stepinac from prison.
Before he died, Me?trovi? returned to Yugoslavia one last time to visit with the imprisoned Cardinal Stepinac and with Tito. At the request of various people from his homeland he sent 59 statues from the United States to Yugoslavia (including the monument of Petar Petrovic-Njegos), and in 1952 signed off his Croatian estates to the people of Croatia, including more than 400 sculptures and numerous drawings. Upon his return he vowed to his colleague painter Jozo Kljakovi? that he would not return to the country as long as the communists were in power.
In 1960 he suffered a minor stroke which affected his eyesight. In 1961, his memoir, Uspomene na politi?ke ljude i doga?aje (Reminiscences of Political People and Events), was published by the Croatian emigrant publishing house Hrvatska revija (Croatian Review) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1969, they were published by Matica hrvatska in Zagreb.
After creating four clay sculptures to memorialize his children, Me?trovi? died in early 1962, aged 79, in South Bend, Indiana. His funeral mass was celebrated by the bishops of ?ibenik, Josip Arneri?, and bishop of Split-Makarska Frane Frani?. His remains were interred at a mausoleum in his childhood home of Otavice. Communist Yugoslav authorities had originally promised the Me?trovi? family that his remains could lie in repose at the cathedrals in Zagreb and Split. Once his remains had arrived in Yugoslavia, however, the authorities reneged and did not allow this to take place. After communist officials interfered during his funeral, his son Mate Me?trovi? sharply criticized the level of religious freedom in the country.
His son, Mate, is a Croatian-American diplomat, university professor and editor at Time magazine, who served as a lieutenant in the US Army PsyWar. Later, he served as president of the Croatian National Congress and lobbied on behalf of Croatian self-determination in Washington, D.C., Western Europe and Australia, and was a deputy in the Croatian Parliament, a member of Croatia's delegation to the Council of Europe, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. He also served as an ambassador in the Foreign Ministry.
His sculptural strengths are manifested in the lyrical and dramatic expression of the human body. Critics in Europe and the United States ranked him highly in the first half of the 20th century. He is one of the most prominent Croatian artists whose work has at times gained worldwide recognition.
Professor Miljenko Jurkovic of the University of Zagreb states he:
Historians Wojciech Roszkowski and Jan Kofman report: "Me?trovi?'s sculpture of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Field won first prize at an international exhibition in 1911, and critics acclaimed him the greatest sculptor of modern times."
Alonzo Lansford, editor of Arts Magazine in New York City, reviewed the Mestrovic show of 1947 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He wrote: "It is therefore singularly significant that he is almost unanimously revered by American sculptors of all schools as one of the greatest living sculptors."
Me?trovic created over fifty monuments during his two years in Paris (1908-1910). The theme of the Battle of Kosovo particularly moved him, prompting one of his first great works, the Paris Kosovo Monument, as well as other works in bronze and stone. Much of his early work commemorated such epic moments from Slavic history, as he attempted to foster the pan-Slavic cause in his native country.
With the creation of the first Yugoslavia, Me?trovi?'s focus shifted to more mundane topics such as musical instruments or chapels. He particularly oriented himself towards religious items, mostly made of wood, under artistic influence from the Byzantine and Gothic architecture. The most renowned works from his early period are the Crucifix and Madonna; later he became inspired by Michelangelo Buonarroti and created a large number of stone reliefs and portraits. The Croatian dinar featured Me?trovi?'s work History of the Croats.
Me?trovi?'s most famous monuments include:
Galleries displaying his work include:
He painted in oil (Moja majka [My mother], 1911).
He wrote essays (Moji razgovori s Michelangelom [My Interviews with Michelangelo], 1926), memoirs about the public and political life of his time (Uspomene na politi?ke ljude i doga?aje [Memories of Political People and Events], 1969) and short stories (Ludi Mile [Crazy Mile], 1970).