According to her son’s memoirs, Milica Banać (née Popović) was renowned for her intelligence, beauty and bearing from childhood in the wide surroundings of her birth town Osijek. Later in life, in larger circles in Zagreb, London, Paris and the Riviera, she continued to attract suitors despite her powerful husbands and a sharp tongue. She was a confident and knowledgeable woman, not too modest to correct Colette about men or André Maurois on his knowledge of the English. Milica is said to have carried herself as an earthy Byzantine empress, but never so forbidding as to lack humor. When an airline clerk once reported that her luggage was thirty kilo’s overweight she retorted: “Don’t speak to me in kilos young man, speak to me in dollars” (Ivanović, op.cit., p. 46).
From 1925 to 1930 she lived in London with her second husband, the shipping magnate Boidar Banać. She became acquainted with the substantial Anglo-Croat contingent which included several patrons of Meštrović. She made much publicised appearances at Ascot, Epsom, and the Embassy nightclub but lived on the fringes of English life otherwise. When Sir Edward Boyle announced he had secured a spot at Eton for her son she replied: “All very well for the Kings of England, since they live next door, but I am not sending a child of mine into the wilderness.” (Ivanović, op.cit., p.50) In London she developed a personal style which she would stay true to all her life and is captured in the current portrait: she wore a bob and a long loose coat without buttons made by her favorite Yugoslav cutter at the London branch of Jeanne Paquin (Ivanović, op.cit., p. 48).
In the years after her London sojourn Milica entertained the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Prince of Greece and Prince Rainer of Monaco from her homes in Dalmatia, New York, and finally Monaco, where she died in 1970.
Warm correspondence between Milica Banać and Ivan and Olga Meštrović exists in the Meštrović family papers at the University of Notre-Dame (op.cit.). There is a lively exchange of advice with regards to travel and later on there is much chatter about children and grandchildren. Milica invariably expressed her fondness for the sculptor at the end of each letter. They probably met in the higher circles of Zagreb in the 1910s. Just like Milica’s brother and second husband, Mestrovic was fanatically engaged in Yugoslav politics during those years and was an important supporter of its unification. Mestrovic was also close friends with Marija Banać (née Račić), Boidar Banać’ first wife, of whom he sculpted a number of portraits and in whose memory Mestrovic created one of his masterpieces, the Racić memorial in Cavtat, between 1918 and 1922.
The angular composition and bold modelling of the present portrait convey all the strength and steadfastness which Meštrović must have admired in Banać. The striking truncation under the knees seems to have been favored by Meštrović for certain portraits including that of Lady Radcliffe from 1917 in a private collection in Leeds, of his second wife Olga with child from 1924 in the Modern Gallery in Prague, and the set of reliefs representing the Račić family in their mausoleum at Cavtat, illustrated in Roje Depolo and Čerina (op.cit., p. 109). The delicate, dappled surface makes the present bronze a superb example of Meštrović’s work in bronze. The gilding, which is unusual in the Croat sculptor’s work, possibly prompted the family legend that Meštrović smelted three gold coins into the alloy. The records of the Meštrović Museums record that Meštrović produced two casts “in gold” late in 1925 and mention that the family’s cast moved to Mallorca in 1969. However, it is unclear if the second cast survives.
University of Notre Dame Archives, Mestrovic Papers, CMST 1/59 and GMST 10/22; V. Ivanović, LX. Memoirs of a Jugoslav, New York/ London, 1977, pp. 40-54; D. Kečkemet and J. Brumen, Ivan Meštrović, Zagreb/ Ljubljana, 1970, pp. 125 and 127; L. Roje Depolo and L. Čerina, Ivan Meštrović. Gospa od anđela – Mauzolej obitelji Račić u Cavtatu, Zagreb, 2008, pp. 10-112
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