If you don’t think that Ivan Mestrovic deserves a place among the greatest sculptors in history, perhaps because you’ve never heard of him, consider the following: Mestrovic created over fifty monuments in only two years in Paris, he sculpted throughout his whole life, from the discovery of his wood hand carvings that he had created while tending a flock of sheep as a boy though his apprenticeship and University and two World Wars, even through his retirement to the countryside in Croatia. He was also the first person to have a one man exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Beyond that, Mestrovic’s sculptures appear in a great number of public squares throughout Croatia, including sculptures in Dubrovnik and the Grgur Ninski statue with the lucky big toe standing outside of the gates at Diocletian’s Palace in Split.
Considered one of the best sculptors on religious themes to come out of Europe since the Renaissance, Mestrovic is something of a national icon in Croatia. His statues appear widely and have become valuable throughout the country and his former workshop in Zagreb is now a monument to his work and a place for exhibitions and art shows. In sculpting, Mestrovic combined the themes of symbol and myth because of their importance to the European spiritual climate. His work went through several periods and bursts in theme, from dark imagery and shapes to lighter and happier themes characterized by women holding musical instruments.
Born in 1863, Mestrovic tended sheep in a small village before a local artisan noticed his talent and brought him to be an apprentice for a year at his shop. From there, Mestrovic went on to study in France and Switzerland and, although he expressed wishes of returning to Split, stayed abroad during World Wars I and II. Before World War II, Mestrovic when through a period of producing public monuments almost exclusively, as if he felt he needed to leave public works behind before the war started. Mestrovic, however, made it through the fighting unscathed.
Mestrovic’s prolific artistic output influenced the art world greatly. Today his work is on display all over America and Europe and his name is synonymous with excellence in sculpting. But Mestrovic was not limited to one convention. His work also included the production of several major literary works and participation in some of Europe’s most influential political movements.