Friday, 15 October 2010

New Observations on Ivan Mestrovic - Dean A. Porter - Journal of Croatian Studies

DEAN A. PORTER, Journal of Croatian Studies, XXIV, 1983

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.

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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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