Mother and Child
Height: 18 1/8'' (46 cm)
Conceived and carved circa 1917
Acquired by the father of the owner from Mestrovic himself, in the family ever since
Other versions of this sculpture in wood and bronze are part of the Atelier Mestrovic (Zagreb) and Snite Museum of Art (Indiana, USA) collections.
The Atelier Mestrovic version is pictured in catalogue raisonnee no 126.
Ivan Meštrović was the leading Croatian sculptor of the 20th century and one of the foremost European sculptors of his day. Auguste Rodin referred to Meštrović as the greatest phenomenon among the sculptors of his generation. History supports this statement, for in 1915 the artist became the first living sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He also became the first living artist to exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1947. He was awarded the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Gold Medal for sculpture in 1963, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over the ceremony granting him his American citizenship in 1964.
The Ivan Meštrović Gallery in Split, Croatia, was formed in 1950 and holds the most comprehensive collection of the sculptor’s work. His monumental works occupy important locations in a variety of Balkan and North American cities. Demonstrating the lasting value of his legacy, Meštrović’s work has prominently featured in the 2017 Paris’ Grand Palais exhibition celebrating the centenary of Rodin’s death.
Meštrović, Well of Life
Meštrović was born into a rural peasant family in Vrpolje. During his teenage years, he was an apprentice in a stonemason’s workshops in Split, where he learned to copy classical Greek and Roman Sculpture. In 1901, he travelled to Vienna, joining the academy of arts and making contact with the Secessionist movement artists. In 1905, he exhibited for the first time with such artists, and was noted for his art nouveau style. Meštrović first met Rodin in Vienna around this period of time. By 1908, he had moved to Paris, renting a studio in Montparnasse.
In 1911 Meštrović was in Rome along with other leading members of the avant-guard movement, winning the first prize for sculpture at the Roman International Exhibition in the same year, with Klimt winning the prize for painting.
Following World War I, Meštrović returned to Yugoslavia, where his talents were marked by the he publication of four major monographs on his work and numerous exhibitions across Europe and the USA, including a 132 work survey at the Brooklyn Museum, held in 1924.
During the interwar period, Meštrović’s approach to sculpture started to diverge from that of other prominent European artists in two ways. First, he became increasingly concerned with regional issues, and particularly with the conflicts between Croats and Serbs, which blighted Yugoslavia at the time. Second, the artist started exploiting religious motifs in his work, a practice which set him apart from an artistic landscape that favoured abstraction and form over figuration and narrative.
Following World War 2 and a period of imprisonment designed to stop him emigrating, Meštrović moved to the USA, where he was offered a teaching post at the University of Syracuse. He returned only once to his native Yugslavia, in 1952, bringing with him 52 sculptures destined for various exhibition spaces and projects. Meštrović died in 1962 in South Bend, Indiana, where he was an artist-in-residence at University of Notre-Dame.
Due to the popularity enjoyed by the artist during his lifetime, unique pieces such as the present one are seldom seen on the collector’s market.
Madonna and Child likely dates to 1917 and relates to the numerous religious figures Meštrović devised between the end of WW1 and the beginning of WW2. Its conception date and subject relate to that of the full-size Aushbaugh Madonna – an impressive sculpture carved in French walnut wood, which currently constitutes one of the Snite Museum in Indiana. A similar model in wood and another, bronze version with a larger base are currently housed in the Meštrović Gallery in Split.
Meštrović, Madonna and Child, carved wood, 1917, Split
In the present work, Meštrović stylises the forms of his two figures, elongating the hands and head of both figures, and carving the curves of their cloths with repeated geometric exaction. These features contribute to the work’s compositional harmony, which is further underlined by the warmth of the wood. With its finely chiselled surface, the sculpture’s texture also adds to the intimacy of the composition, creating an ever-changing play between light and shade.