The tradition of the ‘Zagreb School of Sculpture’ – the influence of Ivan Meštrović on the monumental production of the interwar period in Central and Northern Europe
by Dr Barbara Vujanović
The artistic dominance of Croatian sculptor and architect Ivan Meštrović (Vrpolje, 1883–South Bend, Ind., USA, 1962) in his homeland and abroad was largely anchored in his position at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. He was a professor and dean of the institution from 1922 to 1942 (with some brief interruptions), when he left Croatia permanently due to the current political situation. Yugoslav sculpture of that period was largely influenced by his thematic and stylistic expression. Meštrović’s stylistic and ideological vocabulary shaped the public art of the interwar period, including those commemorating World War I, after which the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was established.
Meštrović’s unrealized ‘Yugoslav school of art’, which he intended to form within the framework of institutional education and through practical work on his own projects, monuments, and buildings, can thus be found to some extent in the ‘Zagreb School of Sculpture’. Analysing the achievements of Croatian and Slovenian sculptors trained at the Zagreb Academy, it is possible to detect Meštrović’s influence. It manifests itself in the adoption of the main determinants of interwar sculpture by Meštrović (classicist monumentalism) and in the incorporation of religious motifs. One can also speak of a longer tradition of the ‘Zagreb School of Sculpture’, which exerted a noticeable influence on the monumental production of the first and second Yugoslavia, especially in the form of monumentalism and the plastic transformation of the representation of state–building narratives – from classical monumentalism and realism to abstraction.
Thanks to his success with monuments in his homeland and in the United States of America, Ivan Meštrović gained a good reputation and influenced the Central and Northern European production of public sculpture of the interwar period. Some examples of reception in the works of other authors clearly speak for him as one of the most outstanding advocates of the ideals of neoclassical monumental public sculpture in the period between the two world wars.
Dr Barbara Vujanović is Chief Curator in the Ivan Meštrović Museums, Meštrović Atelier in Zagreb. She regularly publishes reviews and articles, and devises the curatorial concepts for solo and group exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. She was engaged by the British Museum to conceive and curate the exhibition ‘Rodin: Rethinking the Fragment’ for three UK venues (2018 – 2019). She is the author of the book The Mark of Meštrović in Zagreb (2017) and co-author of Ivan Meštrović and the Czechs: Examples of the Croatian-Czech Cultural and Political Reciprocity (2018).