Laurence Schmeckebier, Ivan Meštrović, Sculptor and Patriot

LAURENCE SCHMECKEBIER, Ivan Meštrović, Sculptor and Patriot. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. 1959.


This is the third book on the great Croatian sculptor published by Syracuse University Press. The first one was the monumental volume The Sculpture of Ivan Meštrović, published in 1948, which contains 158 full-page plates of the works of Meštrović, a short biography by Harry H. Hilberry, and a bibliography of writings on Meštrović and his art. The second was The Life of Christ, ten panels in wood by Ivan Meštrović.


The present volume is prepared by Laurence Schmeckebier, Director of the School of Arts at Syracuse University. It contains: Biographical Sketch of 47 pages, Chronology of the sculptor's life and works, list of illustrations, and two hundred illustrations.


The illustrations include many recent works that appear in a book for the first time. Some of these are: Mila Gojsalić, plaster, over life-size, 1957; John the Baptist, plaster, over life-size, 1954; Andrija Kačić-Miošić, bronze, life-size, 1957; Girls with Musical Instruments, mahagony, 6 ft. by 31/2, 1957; Madonna and Child, mahagony, life-size, 1957; Contemplation, walnut, life-size, 1952; The Guslar, walnut, life-size, 1954; Portrait of President Everett N. Case, bronze, over life-size, 1954; Portrait of Chancellor William P. Tolley, bronze, over life-size, 1954; Portrait of I. A. O'Shaughnessy, bronze, life-size, 1956; Portrait of F. C. Morgan, bronze, over life-size, 1957; Pope Pius XII, bronze, over life-size, 1957; Prophet Jeremiah, limestone, life-size, 1952; Blind Homer, plaster, life-size, 1956; St. Anthony, bronze, life-size, 1953; St. Jerome, bronze, life-size, 1955; St. Cristopher, plaster; over life-size, 1955; Jacob's well, bronze, over life-size, 1957; Man and Freedom, bronze, 24 ft. high, 1953; Crucifixion, lime-stone, 8 ft. by 22 ft., 1956; Crucifixion, mahagony, over life-size, 1957; Father Lopez Memorial, bronze, 11 ft. high, on green granite base, 1958; Mary, the Immaculate Queen of the Universe, limestone relief, 17 ft. 9 in. high, 1957; Pietá, bronze, over life-size, 1958. This partial list shows that Meštrović, at the age of seventy-five is creatively producing at a rate equal to the revolutionary success of his early period.


The Biographical Sketch written by Professor Schmeckebier is one of the most complete and accurate accounts of Meštrović's life and work in the English language. It will, no doubt, serve as an authoritative reference for future historians of art. The author emphasizes the well known characteristics of Meštrović's works: the unbelievable power, inspired grandeur and monumentality of his figures; his sense of form and his ability to interpret that form with force in heroic concepts; a classical balance between vigor and dignity; his interest in the strong and dedicated, characters whom he saw as prophets of his people; his interest in biblical subjects which stems from the artist's belief in the enduring values of the spiritual. ("One must be in love with eternity" wrote Meštrović in 1922). Schmeckebier points out that Meštrović stood apart from the stylistic groups and categories; he was neither an impressionist nor an expressionist. Schmeckebier writes: "He was a Croatian, and what he tried to express was rooted in the heart and soil of his homeland. Its successful achievement, however, was not in the one language, but rather in that of all humanity" (p. 5).


A large part of the Sketch deals with Meštrovič's political activities. "For good or evil — writes the author — in Meštrović's career art and politics went hand in hand". In describing the artist's role in the establishment of Yugoslavia, Schmeckebier writes: "During the interwar years most of the ministers, the vast majority of the diplomatic posts, and nearly all the leading military positions were held by Serbs. Meštrovič had worked for the establishment of a "Yugoslav federation within which the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes would be equal partners and he, as a true patriot, actively opposed Serbian hegemony in the new state. He was alarmed by the bitter Serbo-Croatian conflict and felt that, unless the conflict was settled in a mutually satisfactory manner, it would lead Yugoslavia to disaster" (pp. 28-29).


The passage on p. 36, in which he describes the events in Croatia after the collapse of Yugoslavia, contain statements which may be construed in a way Professor Schmeckebier, I am sure, did not intend. Thus the epithet "local Quisling" is hardly applicable to Pavelić as the situation in Croatia was unlike that in Norway. By referring to Pavelić's career as "infamous", the author was justifiably voicing his condemnation of certain acts of Pavelić's regime during the war years, but did not intend to attach the stigma of infamy to the struggle of the Croatian people for their own independent state. Before the war the Ustaša movement was looked upon by the Croatian people as the most dynamic expression of their demand for independence from Serbia; it was organized, as Professor Schmeckebier himself points out, after the assasination of Stjepan Radić and other leaders of the Croat Peasant Party in the Belgrade Parliament "as a reaction to the continued terrorism and oppression of the Belgrade Serbian regime" (p. 36). Terrorism and political assassinations as political weapons are justly abhored in the Anglo-Saxon world with its long tradition of democracy. These methods, however, have been quite common in dictatorships, in which such methods, alas, are the only methods available to the opposition. Professor Schmeckebier's judiciousness, sense of fairness and sympathy for the Croatian people are apparent on every page of this book and the above remarks were not meant to be a criticism, but rather a clarification.

Stanko M. Vujica