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Ivan Mestrovic

Updated on November 2, 2013

The greatest Croatian sculptor

Powerful, expressive, vivid - words that attempt to describe Ivan Mestrovic's art. Croatia's world-known sculptor, who survived being imprisoned by the Nazi-collaborant ustasha regime, two world wars, the communist takeover of Yugoslavia and the early death of two of his children, created such masterpieces which convey humanity, heroic fights and strenght.

This lens gives you an insight into the life and the art of this exceptional Croatian artist.


Cyclops - A giant from a giant

The sculpture of Cyclops is situated in the garden of Mestrovic Villa in Split. Cyclops is a mythological figure, a giant with a single eye in the middle of his forehead.

Ivan Mestrovic's life point by point

Mestrovic's life was an adventure in itself. He was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, more precisely in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, lived in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (geographically these three are the same place) and spent a few years in European cities such as Vienna, Paris and Rome. In 1946 he moved to the USA and died there.

  • Ivan Mestrovic was born in Vrpolje on 15 August 1883 but spent his childhood in Otavice, a small village in Dalmatian hinterland.
  • He studied at the Art Academy in Vienna and made his first exhibit here in 1905.
  • After a few years in Paris and Belgrade, he moved to Rome and won the grand prix for the Serbian Pavilion on the Rome International Exhibition in 1911.
  • After World War I he moved back to Yugoslavia and settled down in Zagreb with his family. He worked as the professor and later the director of the Art Institute of Zagreb and spent the winter months in Zagreb and the summer in his villa in Split.

The Mestrovic Villa in Split

Mestrovic Gallery Split
Mestrovic Gallery Split

The villa houses a gallery today

The villa houses a gallery today
The villa houses a gallery today

...after a couple of calm years

  • Until WWII he travelled and exhibited around the world: in the USA (New York, Chicago), Egypt and Palestine.
  • Since he opposed the Nazi Germany and its ally, Italy's territorial claims, he was imprisoned for 3 and half months by the ustasha regime and was released only with the help of Vatican.
  • Following World War II as he refused to live in Tito's communist Yugoslavia, he moved to the USA and became a professor at Syracuse University and later at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
  • In 1952 he generously donated over 400 of his sculptures and his Croatian estates to the People's Republic of Croatia which were turned into art museums showcasing his works.
  • He died in South Bend, Indiana in 1962. His remains were interred at a mausoleum in his childhood village, Otavice.

The mausoleum in Otavice was designed by Mestrovic himself

The mausoleum in Otavice was designed by Mestrovic himself
The mausoleum in Otavice was designed by Mestrovic himself
Grgur Ninski statue Split
Grgur Ninski statue Split

Mestrovic's favourite themes

Mestrovic often drew inspiration from the epic moments of Slavic history and Christianity. This 7m high statue of bishop Grgur Ninski is one of his most famous works, it stands just outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian's Palace in Split.

Grgur Ninski played a very important role in the Kingdom of Croatia, he fought to hold religious services in Croatian language even thought the Church at that time only allowed the use of Latin. The statue has two smaller replicas in Croatia: one in Nin, the other one in Varazdin.

The statue of Grgur Ninski in Nin

The statue of Grgur Ninski in Nin
The statue of Grgur Ninski in Nin

The Mestrovic museums

Four museums are dedicated to the sculptor today.

  1. Mestrovic Atelier, Zagreb

    The building complex in Zagreb at Mletacka 8 once was the home of Ivan Mestrovic and his family. After he donated it to the People's Republic of Croatia (1952), the building was converted into an exhibition place. The atelier exhibits about 300 sculptures and drawings of Mestrovic.

  2. Mestrovic Gallery, Split

    The sculptor spent the summers in this beautiful white villa in Split which was built between 1931 and 1939 according to Mestrovic's plans. The gallery was opened in 1952.

  3. Kastelet-Crikvine, Split

    Located only a short walk from Mestrovic Gallery, this building was built in the 16th century as the home of the noble Capogrosso family. Mestrovic bought it in 1939 with the intention of converting it into an exhibition venue of his works. The most interesting part of the complex is the Holy Crucifix Church where a cycle of 28 wooden reliefs are on display representing the life of Christ.

  4. The Most Holy Redeemer Church, Otavice

    Better known as the Mestrovic Mausoleum, this octagonal building is located on a small hill near Mestrovic's childhood village, Otavice.

Dining room in the Mestrovic Villa

A wooden relief in the church of Kastelet

A wooden relief in the church of Kastelet
A wooden relief in the church of Kastelet

Tickets to the museums

Mestrovic Atelier, Zagreb 20 Kn

Mestrovic Gallery, Split 30 kn

Kastelet, Split 20 Kn*

Mausoleum,Otavice 10 Kn

* also valid for Mestrovic Gallery

Video about Ivan Mestrovic's art

This beautiful video features some of Ivan Mestrovic's famous works: The Well of Life in front of the National Theatre in Zagreb, the History of the Croats (a seated figure of a woman) at the entrance of Zagreb University and the Mestrovic Gallery in Split.

City lodge Zadar
City lodge Zadar

Mestrovic exhibition in Zadar

Once the town's courthouse, council chambers and library, the City lodge (Gradska Loza) serves as an exhibition space today.

From 17. 09 to 1. 12. 2013 there is an exhibition of sculptures and drawings of Ivan Mestrovic on the occasion of his 130th birth anniversary. His pieces of arts arrived from Zagreb (Mestrovic Atelier) and Split (Mestrovic Gallery) to Zadar.

Mestrovic Pavilion - or as the locals call it, Zagreb's mosque

Mestrovic pavilion in Zagreb
Mestrovic pavilion in Zagreb

This iconic building stands on Zrtava Fasizma Square in Zagreb. Designed by Ivan Mestrovic in 1938, it was originally built to house an art museum, then was converted into a mosque for Zagreb's Bosnian inhabitants. After World War II in the communist Yugoslavia the building hosted the Museum of Revolution. Today the pavilion serves as the venue of exhibitions and concerts.

Read more about Ivan Mestrovic!

Ivan Mestrovic: The Making of a Master
Ivan Mestrovic: The Making of a Master

A biography written by the daughter of Ivan Mestrovic.


The mausoleum of the Racic family in Cavtat was also designed by Ivan Mestrovic

The mausoleum of the Racic family in Cavtat was also designed by Ivan Mestrovic
The mausoleum of the Racic family in Cavtat was also designed by Ivan Mestrovic

Warrior statues in Chicago

The two equestrian sculptures standing in Grant Park, Chicago were made by Ivan Mestrovic. They are The Bowman and The Spearman, also known as Indians.


Don't you miss something on this statue?

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What do you think about Mestrovic's art? - I hope this lens brought him a bit closer to you...

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    • Inkhand profile image


      6 years ago

      Mestrovic's sculptures are very powerful and emotional, I like his first work series the "Well of life".

    • delia-delia profile image


      6 years ago

      I love Mestrovic's art...and I'm fond of the statues in Chicago, I have seen them many times. Nice informative lens!


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