With his proud nationalism and deep yearning for spirituality, Ivan Meštrović was the leading figure of Croatian modern sculpture. His art, encompassing Yugoslavia’s diverse influences, tells a story about religion, folklore, mythology and the heroism of accepting one’s fate, often times with an underlying nervous energy that simmers beneath the surface. Irrespective of the medium in which he worked – wood, marble, clay or bronze – Meštrović’s mastery shines through; his sculptures are more spirit than matter and the forms barely contain the powerful feelings they express.
The Croatian achieved fame and recognition from a young age. In his early 20s he was already exhibiting in major cities across Europe (Vienna, Paris and Rome), gaining Auguste Rodin’s admiration who reportedly said that Meštrović was a greater sculptor than himself. By 1924, when he was 41 years old, Meštrović had reached artistic maturity and he was passionately experimenting with the female form, blending spirituality with eroticism and fecundity.
Contemplation is one such example, a sculpture made of marble from Carrara that shows a woman sitting with her knees raised to her chest, her head bowed down and resting her crossed hands in the fold of her stretched dress. This graceful and pious pose is at odds with the subtle tension arising from her parted knees, stretching the material of her dress and revealing in great detail the shape of her hips and legs. Meštrović often depicted his subjects like this, particularly women, as if to suggest their underlying eroticism. In his later sculptures, the Croatian portrayed his male, biblical figures with their legs parted in order to convey their idealized struggles and despair.
The model for Contemplation is assumed to have been Olga Meštrović, the artist’s second wife, whom he had met two years previously and married quickly thereafter. The couple stayed together until the artist’s death in 1962. By infusing Olga’s meditative portrait with sensuality, the sculpture also becomes an expression of affection.