Mother and Child
Height: 33" (86 cm)
Given by the artist to his daughter Marta Strepel Mestrovic on the occasion of the birth of her daughter, Ivana
Thence by descent
Carved in Rome 1946
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 sculptors of his generation and in 1915 he became the first living sculptor to have a one-man exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1946 he also became the first living artist to exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA. The Ivan Meštrović Museum in Split, Croatia was formed in 1950 and continues to hold the most comprehensive collection of the sculptor’s work.
Mestrovic was born into a rural peasant family in Vrpolje and during his teenage years apprenticed in stonemasons’ workshops in Split where he learned to copy classical Greek and Roman Sculpture. In 1901 he went to Vienna where he joined the Academy of Arts and began to make contact with artists from the burgeoning Viennese secessionists movement. In 1905 he exhibited for the first time with the secessionists group and was noted for his art nouveau style. It was whilst in Vienna that Mestrovic first met Rodin, and by 1908, he had moved to Paris (via Italy) where he rented a studio in Montparnasse. By 1911 Meštrović was in Rome, along with other leading members of the avant-garde. The same year he won first prize for sculpture at the World exhibition (also in Rome), with Klimt winning the prize for painting.
After the First World War, Meštrović returned to Yugoslavia, where his talents were marked by the publication of four major monographs on his work and numerous exhibitions across Europe and the USA, including a survey of 132 artworks at the Brooklyn Museum in 1924. It was during this interwar period that his aims as a sculptor began to diverge from other leading European modernists. Indeed, Meštrović became increasingly concerned with regional issues and particularly the conflicts between Croats and Serbs which blighted Yugoslavia at the time. Meštrović progressively employed religious motifs in his work, a practice which divorced him further from an artistic landscape that favoured abstraction and form over figuration and narrative.
Following the Second World War and a period of imprisonment designed to stop his leaving Croatia, Mestrovic moved to the USA where he was offered a teaching post at the University of Syracuse. He arrived in 1947 and within the year displayed a body of work executed during the war years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1954, at a ceremony held at the White House, Mestrovic became an American citizen. He returned only once to his native Yugoslavia, in 1952, bringing with him fifty-two sculptures destined for various different exhibition spaces and projects, as well as signing over his private land near Split to the state. It now houses the Meštrović Gallery, where over 400 of his works are permanently on display. Meštrović died in 1962 in South Bend, Indiana.
The present work depicts a mother cradling her child. The child’s arms reach up towards his mother in manner that echoes the Meštrović’s Persephone (also conceived 1946). Meštrović executed very few wooden carvings and it is likely that the present composition is unique. Of the small number of carvings that he made, the present example is typical in displaying the artists use of a wide flat chisel, giving the work a lively surface and accentuating the nuances in the colouring of the wood.
Branka Stipančić & Ellen Elias-Bursać, ‘Ivan Mestrović’s Melancholic Art Deco’ in The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Vol. 17 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 54-59.
Božidar Gagro & Nenad Gattin, Ivan Meštrović (Zagreb: 1987), pp. v-xv.
Duško Kečkemet, Meštrović: The Only Way to be an Artist is to Work (Zagreb: 1970), pp. 6-44.