NEW OBSERVATIONS ON IVAN MEŠTROVIĆ*
DEAN A. PORTER
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Journal of Croatian Studies, XXIV, 1983, – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.
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To better perceive and comprehend the nature and significance of Meštrović's Notre Dame work, it is necessary to have an understanding of the man and his art from his previous years. A brief chronological review of certain aspects that pertain to his earlier career and mention of a few of the major monuments he produced during that time will provide a background from which to begin. Critical issues and questions, however, will be raised in the process, which, I believe, will suggest that a new approach be taken to Meštrović, one that will lead to a more realistic assessment of his work and of his position in modern art.
The artist's talents were recognized early in his life and his art training started while he was still a child in Croatia. He moved to Vienna in 1900 at the age of 17 and soon after was accepted by the Academy of Art where he first studied under Edmund Hellmer and Hans Bitterlich and later under the architect Otto Wagner. He was attracted immediately to the ideologies of the Secessionist movement that was developing in Vienna at the time. His thirst for experiences other than those fostered by the Academy drew the young Croatian to work among its artists.
By the time he was twenty, Meštrović appears to have thoroughly integrated himself within the movement. He exhibited with its artists in their annual shows of 1902, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1910. Egon Schiele mentions him along with other Secessionists when he wrote to the critic Arthur Roessler in 1910 pleading: "Why can't there be a large international exhibition in the Künstlerhaus? — I have said this to Klimt — for example, each artist has his own large room or his own apartment — Rodin, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Minne, Klimt, Toorop, Stuck, Liebermann, Slevogt, Corinth, Meštrović, etc. Only painting and sculpture. What a sensation for Vienna! — a catastrophe!" Meštrović appears to have maintained some contact with the Secessionists for years, at least through 1941 when he received a birthday congratulatory message from them.
Meštrović's artistic personality was a most complex one and reflected a number of influences. Two of them, the strong, rich traditions of his Croatian heritage, so filled the literature of his people and the chantings of the Guslar, and the Word, as expressed in the Bible, profoundly affected his art throughout his career. His admiration for Auguste Rodin whom he met in 1904, is well known, perhaps to a greater extent than is known of Rodin's appreciation of Meštrović. Rodin, who considered the artist the "greatest phenomenon amongst the sculptors of the world", posed for his portrait while visiting Meštrović's studio in Rome at the beginning of World War I in 1914. In later years, Rodin served primarily as a guiding inspiration for the artist and less as an artistic influence. And, finally, Meštrović's association with the Secessionists must have been a major factor in his development. The architect Otto Wagner, and the painter Gustav Klimt, a founder and first president of the Secessionist movement, seem to have been especially influential, while the influences of Egon Schiele, who joined the movement a few years after Meštrović did, and other members of the group, were felt to a lesser degree.
While historians and critics discuss Meštrović's involvement with Secession, no one, to my knowledge, has determined its extent and whether or not there were any direct influences with specific examples, and if so, from whom?
He enjoyed early success with both critics and the public. By 1910, and at the age of twenty-seven, he was an accomplished and recognized sculptor. His Well of Life of 1905 was exhibited in plaster form in 1905 in the Secession Building and cast in bronze in 1910.
It was later placed in front of the National Theatre in Zagreb. The Source of Life, dating from 1906, was placed in the City Park in Drniš in 1958. His international reputation was established during these early years through exhibition of his projected Kosovo Temple monument sculptures, a project that unfortunately, may never be realized.
The Well of Life (fig. 1) is characteristic of his early work. Discussions, more often than not, have spoken of the influences of Rodin and Impressionism, at least in terms of the sculpture's stylistic qualities. Many of Meštrović's early sculptures bear the impact, to varying degrees, of Rodin's style. The figures in the Well of Life, all thirsting for the life giving waters, are marvelously interwoven, their forms orchestrated around the small well, their surfaces a delight in their tactile quality. Meštrović certainly had the work of Rodin in mind when creating his sculptural group. However, the composition itself suggests that he was not only familar with, but was influenced by Hans Canon's ceiling painting called The Circle of Life, painted in circa 1884-85, that is now in the Naturhistorishes Museum in Vienna. Although Meštrović did not borrow figures from Canon, the circular arrangement of figures of various ages are similary placed like the interlocking links of a chain.
A relationship of Meštrović's sculpture to painting is also evident with the Source of Life (1906). Two pairs of nude figures flanking a row of young children with hands holding a large breast, are reminiscent of Josef Engeihart's Fireplace of 1899, now in the Osterreischisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst. The subject of Engelhart's Fireplace is that of the fall of Adam and Eve. Eve is shown reaching across to Adam, her hind extended above the fireplace opening and under the sinister looking serpent which twines in the tree of knowledge. Although the themes are different, there is a strong sculptural affinity between Meštrović and Engelhart's groupings.
It is also necessary to closely examine Meštrović's relationship to another painter of Vienna Secession, Gustav Klimt. The energetic line and compositional devices that Meštrović used in his early drawings so closely resemble Klimt's drawing technique as to suggest a closer relationship between the two artists than has been believed to date. A sculpture of an old woman that Meštrović exhibited in the International Exhibition at Rome in 1911  and a drawing that Klimt executed (variously dated ca. 1905/1909) of an old woman are so much alike in appearance as to suggest that the two artists may have been working together and sharing the same model.
The influence of Otto Wagner, one of Meštrović's teachers, has also been stressed. One only has to compare Wagner's architectural monuments, specifically the First Villa Wagner, in Hutteldorf, near Vienna, of 1886-8 with Meštrović's summer home in Split of 1930, or Wagner's Church of St. Leopold in Steinhof of 1903 to 1907  with Meštrović's Račić Family Memorial Chapel in Cavtat of 1919 to 1921 to recognize similar elements of design. The general configuration of Meštrović's architecture, to be discussed later, is freely adapted from Wagner's architectural ideas.
Between 1904 and 1911, the artist devoted himself to a series of sculptures, drawings, and models for the Kosovo Temple project mentioned above. It is unfortunate that the project as a whole was never completed for it would have come down as one of the significant achievements of Vienna Secession. Meštrović had envisioned the project as involving architect, sculptor, painter, and decorative artist and was frustrated with its incompletion. He would experience similar frustrations repeatedly throughout his career.
The sculptures that were completed, however, of Serbian and Croatian heroes, mourning women and children, a great sphinx, and two colonnades of caryatids, provided important material for several significant exhibitions in Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Venice, Paris, Zagreb, Rome and London, which were generally well received by critics and the public. Today these marvelous sculptures lie scattered in dimly illuminated galleries, private collections and, occasionally, in dark valuts. The Victor in Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade, completed in 1913 but not installed until 1930, is another instance when Meštrović must have felt frustrated. The sculpture which commemorates the Serbian victory of 1912 over the Turks at the battle of Kumanovo is important for several reasons. Like so many of Meštrović's original plans, the figure, brandishing a sword and holding an eagle, was intended to be one of a very complex grouping. Like so many of his projects, The Victor could not have been completed according to Meštrović's more ambitious plans.'
Therefore, when attempts are made to evaluate Meštrović's sculptural programs as they were originally planned, reference to the artist's working drawings are necessary. To date, no drawings for The Victor monument have surfaced and judgment must be based on the solitary spartan figure. The figure by itself however, illustrates Meštrović's continuing obsession with the stylistic ideologies of Vienna Secession.
In 1915 Mestrović became a political refugee. World Wars and his political aspirations frequently caused him to abandon his well appointed studios, an extraordinary task when you consider the equipment needed when an artist works in wood, stone and bronze. After trips to Rome and Paris, he settled in London where he had the most important display of his sculpture. His one-man show in London's stately Victoria and Albert Museum is considered to have been the first one-man show by a living artist in this prestigious museum. The exhibition consisted mostly of Meštrović sculptures for the Kosovo project and it was met with mixed response from the critics. Ernest H. R. Collings wrote: "However, from its varied appeal to many tastes and in consequence of the differences of opinion which the work excited, a volume of comment arose". Apparently those of the academic mind found Meštrović too advanced while young revolutionaries found his work not advanced enough.
His trip to England brought Meštrović into contact with the daughter of Ivo Račić, Maria. Meštrović and Maria became close friends. When three members of the family contracted the epidemic influenza in 1919, Maria, on her deathbed, asked her mother to have Meštrovic: " ... build a tomb and console me with the thought that death is but a shadow." 
The Račić Family Memorial Chapel (1919-1921) represents Meštrović at his best as an artist. If the artistic style of Vienna Secession can be described as an art directed to the essential genuine and functional values of many, rather than those of a few, and as a synthesis of architecture, sculpture, painting and decorative elements, then few twentieth century architectures exemplify the style as well.
The Račić Family Memorial has escaped the scrutiny of scholars working on Vienna Secession. The reason for this may be more evident than has been previously believed. Vienna Secession essentially comes to an end with the deaths of Wagner, Schiele and Klimt in 1918. Meštrović, for all practical purposes, had begun to move away from Vienna Secession as early as 1915 when he went to London. Yet, the chapel retains strong architectural ties, particularly to the work of Otto Wagner. The sculptural program, however, particularly the altars of St. Roche, the Crucified Christ and the Virgin and Child, mark a stylistic change in Meštrović's work.
The octagonally planned structure is marvelous in its simplicity. The exterior of whitish-gray ashlar stone is modestly decorated ... the cornice carved with ornamental palmettes and a ram's head, and the bronze doors, depicting the saints of the southern Slays, are flanked by tall, slender, graceful, angelic caryatids who stand at attention with hands crossed on their chests, as if in peaceful repose.
The solemn dignity and restraint of the exterior sculptural and architectural program is continued within. A dome and lantern cap a central space that is flanked by lateral arms containing three altars. On the sidewalls of the altars to St. Roche and the Crucified Christ portraits of the Raćić family are carved in low relief. The Virgin and Child are altared at the eastern end of the church where they reflect the brilliant rays of su at dusk (fig. 3).
The prevailing feeling of the space and sculptural program is religiously significant. It is peaceful, quiet and tranquil. Meštrović's treatment of the Virgin and Child is an example of Meštrović's early exploration of the relationship of the Mother and her Son. In 1917, Meštrović created several Madonna and Child images in stone, bronze and wood. A more rigid frontality and hieratic attitude, and his attention to long gracefully flowing forms seen in the Asbaugh Madonna (fig. 6) reflects his involvement with Vienna Secession. In the Račić Madonna and Child, Meštrović is more concerned with portraying a warmer relationship between the pair. The Christ Child's attitude is one of blessing, with His hands outstretched as if to welcome the deceased. Finally, the stylistic exaggerations evident in his earlier sculptures are replaced by more naturalistic proportions and treatment of drapery.
In keeping with the prevailing mood of the memorial chapel, Meštrović demonstrated a dramatic change in the treatment of the Crunfied Christ. In 1917, he carved a Christ, now in the Holy Cross Chapel in Split (fig. 4) whose tortured body is elongated and painfully distorted. Flesh is stretched so taut that it functions like a diaphanous veil over the protruding bony substructure of Christ's body. Two years later, at Cavtat, the figure of Christ is carved with more classical proportions and is relaxed in eternal sleep (fig. 5). A comparison of the upper torso of the two sculptures reveals how fervently Meštrović worked to retain a consistent feeling throughhout the chapel and its decorative programs.
Meštrović's mastery at Cavtat can be best described by his ability to express the basic human tendency for emotion. The Victor is a political monument, that was meant to signify and glorify a battle concluding five hundred years of Turkish domination. The Račić Family Memorial is a religious monument and in Meštrović's mind he had to develop a sacred space. He accomplished this through a series of preliminary studies and working drawings ,(fig. 2). Of all of his monuments, Cavtat was perhaps the most studied, the most completed as to its original plans and the most successful.
In 1924, Meštrović made his first trip to the United States where he exhibited his work in prestigious one-man shows in Brooklyn, Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago. Important works were purchased by all four museums. While in Chicago, he was commissioned by the B. F. Ferguson Fund to do a public monument for that city of an American hero, possibly of Washington or Lincoln. Noting that the two presidents had been immortalized through sculpture many times, he suggested that Chicago honor the American Indian and cowboy, and submitted a model of each for consideration.
On April 15, 1926, Potter Palmer, president of the fund, wrote to Meštrović: "The scale model of the Indian mounted upon a horse is hereby accepted by the Board of Trustees of the Ferguson Fund, and the trustees suggest that the figure of the cowboy in the other model be replaced by a figure, preferably in the nude, of an Indian in action, suitably balanced and designed in harmony with the Indian which you put out in the acceptable model." 
On the following day, Meštrović responded, agreeing to replace the cowboy with the figure of an Indian. At the completion of the project, Meštrović was paid $150,000  (fig. 8 & 9).
The level of funding indicates the respect and status Meštrović enjoyed as a sculptor by the art critics and people of Chicago. It is possible that a portion of these funds was directed toward future projects such as Gregory of Nin, located today outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian's Palace in Split, a gift by Meštrović to the city.
It is interesting to note at this point that the Indians are characterized by rather severe distortion and stylization of the anatomical features, not too unlike his treatment of The Victor for Kalemegdan Park. They show a reversion to his Vienna Secession style during the same period he was beginning to create a handsome series of female nudes which have been related to the works of Maillol, Bourdelle and Michelangelo.
It is impossible to discuss all of Meštrović's major monuments in this article nor is it necessary. The 1930s saw the completion of the Monument of Gratitude to France (1930) in Belgrade, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located in Avala near Belgrade (1935-38), the memorial Church of Our Lady in Biskupija (1936-38), and the Mausoleum of the Meštrović Family in Otavice (1934).
Two monuments in Split, the Meštrović Family Home (1930-36), now the Meštrović Gallery, and the Meštrović Chapel of the Holy Cross (1937-39), are fine examples of the artist's concern for proper settings for his sculptures and, like the Račić Family Chapel, display his ability to combine his multiple talents within a single project.
The Meštrović Home is an example of architecture in the Secessionist style and the quintessence of the classical spirit. Its location is superb. Situated high on a hill, accessible only through a stone gate and up many, many steps, it is surrounded by magnificent gardens and overlooks the beautiful Adriatic. Clearly, Meštrović built this home not only for the needs of his family but also for the execution and display of his sculpture.
Between 1937 and 1939, Meštrović converted a medieval structure, located a few hundred yards from his summer home, into a family chapel of the Holy Cross. Although having little value as an architectural monument, the structure provides an ideal setting for thirty wood reliefs that depict the life and passion of Christ. The carvings were done between 1917 and 1954, and like his home, were made a gift to the Croatian people.
The reliefs, uneven in their quality, offer the Meštrović scholar an unusual opportunity of observing the artist's stylistic evolution over a thirty-seven year period of time. Clearly, Meštrović was a master of carving in shallow relief and it is in this area of sculpture where he surpasses his contemporaries. Each panel presents a different religious message—clearly and strongly expressed.
As Dorothy Adlow stated in 1951: "His richness lies in the fact that his works are charged with emotional content." The only sculpture in the round in the chapel, The Crucifixion (fig. 4), mounted on the eastern wall, is an especially powerful image. In its impact on the viewer it may be compared to Mathias Grünewald's altarpiece in Isenheim.
Meštrović left his native country permanently at the outbreak of World War II and lived in Italy and Switzerland. He arrived in America in 1947 and taught first at Syracuse University before moving to the University of Notre Dame in 1955 where he remained until his death in 1962.
I regret I did not personally know the "Maestro" as he was fondly known. He died four years before I arrived at Notre Dame in 1966. The studio which had been especially constructed for Meštrović had already passed through the hands of two other sculptors. The studio, a long and narrow, partitioned space, had the crane which had moved his ambitious projects, still in place gathering dust. The attic of O'Shaughnessy Hall, the Arts and Letters College, still contained huge crated sculptures which had been brought from Syracuse.
The "Maestro's" magnetic presence continued to be felt long after his death. When Meštrović arrived in 1955, he was 72 years old and not in particularly good health. Yet in the short span of seven years, Meštrović had become a legend. Many knew him during these years—philosopher, linguist, priest and laborer—and all freely shared their memories as they told of their personal experiences. One professor emeritus recently wrote: "My guess is that if one Notre Dame professor from the 20th century is remembered a thousand years from now, it will be Ivan Meštrović." 
Meštrović had been searching for an appropriate place to spend his last years when he told Notre Dame's president, Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.: "I am an American citizen and intend to stay in America, but I would like to give my remaining years doing religious art in a place that will appreciate it." 
Meštrović brought the arts into focus during his years at Notre Dame. He introduced art of a quality that had not been seen on the campus in the 113 years of the university's existence. He opened many of his crates from Syracuse and placed sculptures in chapels, residence halls, and classroom buildings. The Virgin and Child (fig. 7), created in 1947, perhaps the most beautiful of these sculptures from his Syracuse period, was placed at the entrance of the College of Arts and Letters, where it stood for twenty-five years before being moved to the Ivan Meštrović Gallery in 1980.
Meštrović realized one of his greatest dreams, a permanent place for his Rome Pietŕ (fig. 10 & 11) when it was placed in Sacred Heart Church at Notre Dame. The Pietŕ, carved during his years of exile between 1942 and 1946, had been on display and in storage at The Metropolitan Museum of Art since his one-man show there in 1947. In order to accommodate the huge eight ton Carrara marble sculpture, the walls of a side chapel in the church had to be removed and the floor reinforced. Meštrović had agreed to lend the Pietŕ to the university for an indefinite period and after its installation and the walls replaced, he turned to one of his colleagues, Professor Robert Leader, and in his typical dry humor stated: "Now that is what I call a temporary loan".
In his new studio he enjoyed a prolific and successful career. Churches, nursing homes, the Mayo Clinic, and other public buildings soon had Meštrović sculptures which would become the subject of visitor attention. Essentially, his last work was religious and inspired principally by work done in Croatia. Perhaps the most successful and well known piece that he did at Notre Dame is the bronze Christ and the Samaritan Woman at Jacob's Well (fig. 12), completed in 1957. He had first explored the subject in 1927 for the wood relief in the chapel at Split. The compositions for the two works are essentially the same even though they were done thirty years apart.
Only minor changes are evident in the Notre Dame work, such as in the position of the Samaritan woman's head and in the more relaxed attitude of the figure of Christ. The stylistic changes are more obvious. Drapery of the Split relief of 1927 is almost diaphanous in appearance. Garments cling to the forms and are inscribed with graceful, sinuous patterns. The 1957 figures are seen with heavy folds, gathered in a casual manner over their limbs. More important, however, is Meštrović's creation of a sense of communication that exists between the two figures. By 1957, Meštrović appears to have become more concerned with the spiritual impact of his figures than with style. It is this strong feeling of communication between Christ and the Samaritan that attracts and involves the viewer.
Because it became increasingly difficult in his later years for the "Maestro" to physically handle large blocks of marble or walnut, he worked primarily with plaster while at Notre Dame. Several of his works were not cast into bronze until after his death. Among these were the 1956-58 Madonna and Child in the courtyard of Lewis Hall and a superb 1947 plaster portrait of his wife Olga.
In 1960, he suffered a stroke which partially affected his eyesight and in 1961, he suffered the cruelest of blows when he learned of the death of his son Tvrtko. Quietly, he drew the curtains to his home in South Bend and poured out his grief through his hands. Ivan Meštrović' s great strength is best reflected by this series of plaster sculptures done at that time: An Old Father in Despair at the Death of His Son; A Father Taking 'Leave of His Son in Fierce Embrace; A Mother with a Gentle Kiss Takes Leave of Her Dead Daughter and the Last Self Portrait, are expressions of his anguish. Simple, direct and powerful, they are personal statements, perhaps never intended for public viewing. Madame Meštrović has stated: "No one will ever understand them".
Meštrović's last public monument was inspired by Petar Petrović Njegoš, the Montenegrin poet and prince bishop, and given to the people of Montenegro (Crna Gora) in 1958. In a sense, it represents the problems Meštrović faced throughout his career. The project was initially discussed during the early 1920s and several working drawings and a model were completed for it. Meštrović created a full-scale plaster for the work and sent it to one of his former students in Split who carved the over life-sized Petar Petrović Njegoš in greyish-green granite. Njegoš location is impressive, and awesome. It rests at the end a simple, narrow road that winds precariously up the steep cliffs. The monument undoubtedly was inspired by Meštrović's architectural monuments, drawings, and models from the early 1930s. After going through a "triumphal" gate into an open atrium area, the visitor passes between large architectural figures dressed in native costume and moves on into a square chamber that is almost solemn in effect. The sculptured image of the prince bishop is seated on a low seat with his legs crossed, one hand raised to his head, the other to his heart, and his head bent forward, as if lost in thought. Behind Njegoš is a great eagle with its wings spread, serving as a kind of guardian.
The sculpture is monumental in concept. It is traditional in style like the rest of the work Meštrović produced after World War II. During his last years, he worked independently, preferring not to follow the more contemporary styles that were developing in the 1940s and 1950s. The portrait of Njegoš is perhaps not as skillfully carved as it might have been if Meštrović had laid chisel to the granite, but its effect is as dramatic as the "Maestro" would have wished.
Meštrović was a people's sculptor. He came from the people and spent his life working for them, constantly searching for an image that would best express the human condition. On January 16, 1962, he went to his studio for the last time. That evening he died quietly of a heart attack in St. Joseph Hospital in South Bend. As he had prophesised, he worked on his last day.
Ivan Meštrović became a legend in his own time. His work is the principal work in four museums (Split, Zagreb, Vrpolje, and Drniš) and the gallery at Notre Dame. His work has been exhibited in some the world's most prestigious museums. He has been written about in numerous monograph, catalogues, and articles, and has been honoured with many degrees and awards.
It is difficult, therefore, to understand the present lack of interest in Meštrović. His name is rarely included in contemporary writings on twentieth century sculpture, even in the most general surveys. He is similarly neglected by surveyors of the Vienna Secession movement. The problem of Meštrović's position in twentieth century art continues to be a problem. Perhaps, the time has finally come for art historians to resolve it.
Author's note: I am indebted to Mrs. Sarah Coffman, Ivan Meštrović archivist at Notre Dame, for her assistance with this publication.
Fig. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 12 Meštrović's Archives, University of Notre Dame.
Fig. 9 Meštrović family collection. Fig. 10 Photo: Bruce Harlan. Fig. 11 Photo Vasari Rome.