A Meeting of Masaryk and Dvorak
For a brief moment last September, the statue of composer Antonin Dvorak by Croatian-American sculptor Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962) welcomed a visitor in the Bohemian National Hall: the portrait bust of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), first president of Czechoslovakia, also sculpted by Ivan Mestrovic. Together, these works demonstrate Mestrovic’s great artistry in the medium of sculpture in the mid and late years of his career, and the circumstances of their meeting are worthy of a story.
The Masaryk sculpture was in New York for an official presentation to the Czech Republic by Thomas S. Crane, whose grandfather, Charles Richard Crane (1858-1939), was an active supporter and friend of Masaryk and Czechoslovak nationhood in 1918. The work was commissioned circa 1923 by Crane, whose son Richard was then serving as the first United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Crane’s other son, John Crane, who is Thomas’s father, went on to serve President Masaryk as his personal secretary. Also included in the commission was a sculpture of Masaryk’s daughter, Alice Masaryk (1879-1966), who headed the Red Cross organization in newly founded Czechoslovakia. The portraits, on loan from Ambassador Crane, were displayed together at the Brooklyn Museum in 1924 as part of a major exposition of Mestrovic ‘s sculptures. (Earlier, Charles Richard Crane’s patronage of Czech artist Alfons Mucha’s monumental Slavic Epic Cycle resulted in a 1921 exhibition of the work at the Brooklyn Museum.)
The portrait bust of Masaryk remained in the private collection of the Crane family until now. Grandson Thomas Crane, who was named after Masaryk by his father who viewed the president as his mentor, presented the sculpture to the Czech Republic on behalf of the Crane family at a ceremony in the Bohemian National Hall on September 21 during the visit of Czech Republic President Milos Zeman, who was in New York attending the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Presentation of the Masaryk portrait bust by Ivan Mestrovic in the BBLA Gallery at Bohemian National Hall, with the exhibit of Vaclav Havel in the background. Left to right: Czech Ambassador to the U.S. Petr Gandalovic; Czech President Milos Zeman; Donor/Speaker Thomas S. Crane; and Czech Consul General in New York Martin Dvorak. Photo credit: DAHA.
Statue of Masaryk. Photo credit: DAHA.
President Zeman returned to Prague with the Masaryk sculpture, which has now been placed in Hradcany Castle. As a gift of the Crane family, the bust of Alice Masaryk has been on display for many years at the headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. The original plaster model of the statue of Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) is on permanent view in the Dvorak Room at the Bohemian National Hall, where it was placed in 2011 as a gift of the Manhattan School of Music to the Dvorak American Heritage Association (DAHA).
The Dvorak statue was commissioned in 1961 by a group of Czech emigrees including Alice Masaryk, and is considered to be the last major work of Mestrovic, who offered it as a gift to the Czech Nation. The bronze casting of the statue stands in Stuyvesant Square Park, near the former site of Dvorak House on East 17th Street, where it was placed in 1997 by the Dvorak American Heritage Association working in association with neighborhood groups, thanks to a gift from the New York Philharmonic, in whose possession it had been for over 30 years. For background, see: DAHA – Highlights of History and Stuyvesant Square/Antonin Dvorak.
Statue of Dvorak in the Dvorak Room at Bohemian National Hall. Photo credit: DAHA.
As this story comes full circle, it should be noted that the statue of Dvorak owes its existence to that earlier Mestrovic commission of the Masaryks, which Alice Masaryk naturally recalled at the time of selecting an artist for the composer’s statue in New York. Sculptor Ivan Mestrovic thus links these important Czech figures—Dvorak and the Masaryks, father and daughter—tying their illustrious histories together in a gesture of pan-Slavic brotherhood as only an artist can do.
Majda Kallab Whitaker is an independent scholar and curatorial consultant, and as a Board Member of the Dvorak American Heritage Association (DAHA), acts as project advisor of the Dvorak Room in the Bohemian National Hall. A graduate of Bard Graduate Center and Vassar College, she curates exhibitions and lectures on subjects related to late nineteenth and early twentieth century cultural and design history. She was born in Prague, and recently joined the Board of BBLA.