Book review: Meštrović in Prague

Ivan Meštrović (1883-1962) is best known as the leading Croatian member of the Vienna Secession before the First World War. A symbolist sculptor who was heavily influenced by the work of Rodin early in his career, he went on to develop a quite distinct expressive, hieratic, sculptural language, which, in keeping with his Catholic upbringing, was often imbued with religious themes and subject matter. Born in Slavonia (in eastern Croatia), he moved to Vienna in 1900 at the age of seventeen, where he studied under Otto Wagner and the sculptor Edmund von Hellmer, gaining his first exhibition with the Secession in 1905, and enjoying the patronage of Karl Wittgenstein.[1] Before the War he moved initially to Paris, then to Zagreb and then Rome. In many respects he can be regarded as a typical representative of the transnational art world of central Europe in the early twentieth century, yet this view runs up against his politics, which were strongly marked by nationalistic beliefs and his commitment to the promotion of Yugoslavism and political independence for the south Slavic peoples. Hence, when he gained international fame, it was as a Yugoslav rather than as a Habsburg subject. He won the grand prix at the Rome International Exhibition in 1911 but, provocatively, he exhibited in the Serb pavilion, with a cycle of sculptures including a depiction of the fourteenth-century legendary Serbian figure of Prince Marko, and a design for a temple commemorating the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Fields.[2] In 1915 he was granted a solo exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – followed by another in the Grafton Galleries in 1917 – and exhibited again in 1919 in a group exhibition of Yugoslav artists in Paris.[3]

Continue reading

Uzhhorod Modernism

The Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod is little known internationally. A provincial centre with a population of some 115,000, it is located to the east of interwar Czechoslovakia in Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, a region that briefly enjoyed a higher profile in 1939 as the short-lived Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine, one of the many ‘vanished kingdoms’ of which Norman Davies has so eloquently written.[1] Yet while it may, for many, merely be a footnote in the history books, consideration of the past of Uzhhorod throws an illuminating light on political events in central Europe, their intertwining with art and architecture, and their continuing significance for the present.

Continue reading

City of Women

On 25th January 2019 the Belvedere Museum formally opened its exhibition City of Women: Female Artists in Vienna, 1900-1938. The exhibition continues until 19th May. Presenting the work of no fewer than 53 women artists, it is an ambitious project that builds on and extends earlier exhibitions by the Belvedere; despite the unpromising title, The Women of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka (2015-16), for example, was a serious examination of the painters’ oeuvre in the context of changing gender identities and discourses of femininity.

Continue reading

The House of Austrian History

In November 2018, to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Austrian Republic, a new museum was installed, the House of Austrian History, in spaces formerly occupied by the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

When it first opened there was considerable interest in the British press in the venture, above all in the events leading up to its creation. As the Economist noted, the museum neatly encapsulates Austria’s often fraught political life.[1] The project was initiated with the support of the Social Democrats – and its reading of history is certainly more aligned with the social democratic view of Austria’s past – but with the People’s Party and the Freedom Party now in government, the longer-term future of the institute is still not certain.

Continue reading