Ivan Meštrović is the most famous Croatian sculptor and one of the greatest contemporary artists in the world. He was involved in sculpture, literature, and architecture. He was born in 1883 in Vrpolje, a small place in Slavonia. His talent was recognized when he was only sixteen years old. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. After completing his studies, he enrolls in architecture where he meets his first great love, Ruža Klein. In 1911 he studied in Rome on sculptures of ancient Greece.
In 1912 the monument “Zdenac života” was erected in front of the HNK building in Zagreb, his first masterpiece deserved a central spot in the main exhibition hall at the Vienna Secession 1906 Spring Exhibition.
In 1914 he independently exhibited 36 works on XI. A Biennale in Venice. Shortly after the exhibition, he returned to Split where he was preparing an exhibition that was banned by the Austro-Hungarian government. They were planning to arrest him, so he left Split. He met Auguste Rodin in Rome and portrayed him on two occasions.He was politically active in Paris and London. He exhibited at Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In 1924, he traveled to the United States, where he began with an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in New York and continued with series of exhibitions across US cities. He exhibited in Buffalo, Detroit, Rochester, Chicago, St. Luis, Boston, and Cleveland.
In 1928 he married his second great love with whom he had four children.
During the Second World War, he publicly expressed his anti-fascist attitude and showed his attitude towards Germany. He refused Hitler’s invitation to visit Berlin. He was arrested by Ustasha and sentenced to death. However, he was released from jail and was put into custody. After leaving prison and house arrest, he traveled to Italy, Switzerland and exhibited on XXIII. Venice Biennale.
At the invitation of the American Academy of Science and Arts, he exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York as the first living artist for which the museum organized the exhibition. In 1954, he became a citizen of the United States, although he was disturbed by the fact that this would be interpreted as a rejection of his homeland and nationality.
In 1959 he visited his homeland after seventeen years. Next year he was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Literature. He received numerous awards and acknowledgments for his work. His sculptures could be found in Croatia and abroad.
When talking about our beautiful metropolis, Meštrović’s sculptures mark some of the vital and significant infrastructure points in Zagreb, with the scientific (Ruđer Bošković Institute), higher education (Faculty of Law), medical (Andrija Štampar), religious (St. Mark’s Church), museum (Art Pavilion, HAZU), theatrical and banking functions. This confirms the strong link between his art and love for the life of the city.
He died on January 16, 1962, in South Bend, Indiana.