The Girl in prayer is part of an important series of religious images which Meštrović carved during his years in exile during the First World War. His friend the painter Jozo Kljakovic later recalled that 'he did little else during the war ... So deeply did the war shake him.' Mestrovic said directly that pondering the war and the need for a European unity 'brought me to biblical themes.' The destruction and chaos of the war had left the artist disenchanted with political rationalisations and he turned to a different source of inspiration:
'The real guide is faith... when we try to find total harmony in what we call justice, truth, beauty, wisdom, divided like this they glimmer like fireflies and are gone.'
The girl in prayer is typical of the intuitive fervour of Meštrović's religious works. The figure is cramped into an acute pitch of emotional intensity and her distress is articulated in her gesture and expression.
Lauded by Rodin as 'the greatest phenomenon amongst the sculptors', Ivan Meštrović began his career exhibiting with the Vienna Secession at the turn of the 19th to 20thcenturies. His fame led to important exhibitions across Europe, and, in 1915, he made history as the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
For Meštrović the political concerns of his homeland were as important as his art. He was a founder-member of the Yugoslav Committee which aimed to unify the southern Slavic states. During World War I much of his time was spent exiled from Croatia working on this project, which was realised in 1918 at the close of the war when the Kingdom of Croats, Serbs and Slovenes was formed. Mestrovic's dream of a Yugoslavia united and strengthened against outside forces, was shattered in 1941 when Germany invaded. In the following years the artist resisted both Fascism and Communism and is remembered as a hero of Croatian nationalism. He was imprisoned in Croatia from 1941-43 after refusing the post of Chancellor at his old school - the Academy of Fine Arts in Nazi-occupied Vienna. He left Croatia in 1943 and lived briefly in Switzerland before emigrating to New York State to take up the chair of sculpture created for him at Syracuse University. He never again lived in Croatia as he refused to live under Communism. However, in accordance with his wishes, he was buried in the The Most Holy Redeemer church he had built in Otavice. Moreover, he bequeathed his homes and studios in Zagreb and Split as well the chapel in Otavice to the Croatian people, together with the majority of his sculpture. The bequest now forms the Ivan Meštrović Museums in Croatia.
M. Mestrovic, Ivan Mestrovic. The Making of a Master, London, 2008; D. Kečkemet, Ivan Meštrović. The only way to be an artist is to work, 1970, p. 125
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