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A History of Tito's Most Famous Statue

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

The bronze statuary depiction of Josip Broz Tito by legendary Croatian artist Antun Augustinčić is arguably the most famous likeness of the Yugoslav leader ever created in art. The sheer amount of times this work has been reproduced over the years since its original creation in 1943, according to various sources, number as few as 20 and as high as 40 (the exact number is unknown), with new public large-scale versions of the work still being produced up to the present day. However, for all of the fame and fan-fare of this enduring sculptural work of Tito, there are few easily accessible articles that deeply explore the history of this statue or that examine its many incarnations, which can be especially illuminating as many of these individual works often have unique stories of their own. While some examples of Augustinčić's Tito statue have remained untouched in their original locations through several decades, others have bounced around from place to place in the post-Yugoslav-era.

Through the course of this article, I will explore the history of this famous statue, the story about how it came to be created by its author Antun Augustinčić, its incredible life of reproduction across Yugoslavia, and finally, an in-depth look at the various examples of this sculpture as they exists today across the landscape (both original versions and modern-day recreations).


A History of Tito's Augustinčić Statue


Even before WWII, Antun Augustinčić was considered one of the greatest Croatian sculptors of his time, crafting some of the most dramatic and evocative statues and figures the region had ever seen. Having done much of his early training and studying in Paris, Augustinčić slowly built up a respectable career through his early youth to become a renowned and sought after sculptor not only in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but across Europe as well. Not surprisingly, his artistic skills were sought after not only by art lovers, but also by government leaders and rulers, as well. Such commissions began when he was asked to create multiple sculptural monuments depicting King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, one located in Skopje and the other at Sombor. However, as WWII began in 1941, the royal family of Yugoslavia was swept away and the notorious politician Ante Pavelić stepped up in Croatia as the leader of the fascist Ustaše regime. Augustinčić proceeded to the next phase in his depictions of military leaders when he was employed to create sculptures of Pavelić, who was keen to take advantage of Augustinčić's skills to promote himself via art. However, eager to escape the confines of Pavelić's oppressive regime, in the fall of 1943, Augustinčić fled from the sphere of Ustaše control and joined in with the antifascist communist resistance forces of Marshal Josip Broz Tito's Partisan Army.

A photo of Augustinčić with Tito in 1943 in Jajce while he makes his first skulpture. Credit: Hugo Fisher Ribarić, Arhiva GAA

Augustinčić joined up with the Partisans at the town of Jajce (in present-day Bosnia & Herzegovina) in the fall of 1943, just a few months after the famous Battle of Sutjeska. At that point, Jajce was at the center of a large region which was designated as "free territory" liberated from fascist control by the Partisan Army. Already a fan of Augustinčić's skills as a sculptor, Tito asked if the artist could create for him a dignified portrait. This would be the first significant work in which Tito's likeness would be captured in sculpture. The process of Augustinčić creating Tito's sculpture was well documented in a series of photos, one of which can be seen above. As one source goes on to explain: "the photographs that recorded [this event] traveled the world in order to show that the Partisan movement was not only an armed struggle, but that cultural actions were also taking place in this liberated territory." The sculptural work that Augustinčić created here at Jajce consisted of a bust that depicted Tito looking forward solemnly with a stoic look on his face and his brow furrowed as if he was looking out concerningly across a battlefield or pensively deciding his next strategic move.

A Nov. 1943 image of Tito speakng at the 2nd AVNOJ next to his own bust. Credit: Museum of Yugoslavia

Just a few weeks after Augustinčić completed Tito's bust on November 29th, 1943, it was used as the centerpiece of the 2nd session of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ), held here in Jajce. Every single speaker who addressed the delegates during the session, most notably Tito (as seen in the above photo), stood directly next to the bust as the sculpture symbolically looked out over the gathering from a tall pedestal. These few photos of the bust's creation and its use as a feature of Jajce's 2nd session of AVNOJ are some of the only documentations of this original work, as its current location is not clear. Some sources say it was lost during the course of WWII, while other sources suggest it may have ended up in the BiH town of Bosanski Petrovac, only to be later destroyed during the Bosnian War of the 1990s. Either way, the present location of this original sculpture (even whether it still exists or not) does not seem to be known with any confidence or certainty.

A bronze replica of Augustinčić's original small concept model for Tito sculpture. Credit:

In the months just after the end of the war, Augustinčić went back to his personal art studio in Zagreb where he began to think upon this lost bust he had created in Jajce. As a result, in 1947, he began to develop a full size statuary depiction of Tito based off of and inspired by this lost bust. After just a few months, Augustinčić quickly completed a small 23cm tall concept model for what he envisioned would be a full size statue of Josip Broz Tito. The work depicts the Yugoslav leader dressed in his uniform and long military trench-coat (šinjel) with nearly the same head from the Jajce bust, but this time it is hung low, staring down as he holds in arms behind his back and steps forward. As he walks forward with a determined step, a gust of wind is seen blowing open the lapels of Tito's trench coat, a feature which reseacher Vinko Srhoj interprets as a kind of "theatre curtain, a powerful drapery that opens and frames the power of his stride, dramatizing Tito's physical appearance, its monolithic, slow, yet unstoppable energy of movement." In this sculpture, Augustinčić captures Tito as a true statesman, a portrayal fit for a politician who aims to be understood as the "father of a nation". Interestingly, as Belgrade art historian Ana Panić with the Museum of Yugoslavia points out in a recent article, the figurative composition of this work bears a striking resemblance to an earlier monument that Augustinčić made in 1935 of King Alexander I of the Yugoslav Karađorđević dynasty that was located in the present-day town of Varaždin, Croatia, with its long military trench coat, forward-stepping motion and downward glare (seen in the photo below). However, this monument at Varaždin was destroyed in 1941 as the Ustaše came to power.

Two photos of Augustinčić's King Alexander I statue in Varaždin, Croatia, built in 1935 and toppled in 1941.

Tito was extremely pleased with Augustinčić's concept and, as a result, several life-size versions of this work were ordered to be cast in bronze at the Art Foundry in Zagreb in 1948. Interestingly, various sources seem to be conflicting as far as how many versions Augustinčić originally had cast, with some saying only three, others saying upwards of nine, while other sources say that one copy was made to be placed in each of the six socialist republics of Yugoslavia. However, what seems to be universally accepted is that the very first of these full-size castings of Tito was the version that was installed in front of his childhood home at his birthplace in Kumrovec, Croatia. Over the subsequent decades, many more dozens of these full-size reproductions of Augustinčić's concept were erected across Yugoslavia. Belgrade-based academic researcher Andrew Lawler recounts in discussions I've had with him that he has heard that upwards of thirty full-size bronze castings of Augustinčić's sculpture were made during the Yugoslav-era, with a small number of these being publicly displayed and many others housed within institutions not actively open the the public (such as military bases, government buildings, state property, etc). In addition to this series of full-size versions, there were thousands of smaller-sized versions of this work created (along with bust versions, as well), making it by far the most famous and most reproduced sculptural likeness of the Yugoslav leader.

But where lies the root of the popularity and allure of Augustinčić's depiction of Tito? Is it because it was among the first, or captured during the heat of war, or created by such a famous sculptor, or something else entirely? It is an unquestionably unique embodiment of Tito as a leader, especially when compared to the gaudy, grandiose and over-the-top depictions often seen in the sculptural representations of many other communist leaders of the 20th century. Tito is not shown as flamboyantly exuberant or celebrating victory in an exaggerated way... instead, Tito is shown as restrained, thoughtful and compassionate. In 1968, the famous Yugoslav writer Miroslav Krleža made a description of this work that keenly captures the history and the atmosphere contained within Augustinčić's statue:

Caped in his military overcoat, with an almost melancholic silhouette, Tito was not modeled in a victorious fashion: a state of perilous war had been raging for three years in dangerous uncertainty, precipitated by guerrilla warfare, and he was within the reach of the German army during the time sculpture was made. This, Augustinčić’s Tito, in his Partisan overcoat, who raised the flag of resistance at a crucial moment in history when the other politicians of our country had surrendered, was not shown at the head of the army leading his brigades; this is the vision of a man with his head bowed down as the the result of continual worries, deep in thoughts, walking the narrow courtyard of Jajce fortress, in a similar way that he had been pacing the courtyards of prison just a few years prior [while at Lepoglava].

In this quote, Krleža is better contextualizing the imagery and figurative form which Augustinčić is conveying in the sculpture, allowing us to better grasp the complex play of human drama and body language that makes this sculpture so compelling and enigmatic. Furthermore, while Yugoslavia's Karađorđević royalty had hundreds of monuments across their kingdom, Tito only had a few modestly placed public sculptural works depicting himself. As Belgrade art historian Ana Panić with the Museum of Yugoslavia again notes in a recent article: "[Tito's] sculptures were in the circle of factories, barracks, student campuses and museums... they were rarely in the squares, but instead more hidden, which is why, unlike the Karađorđević sculptures, they were seldom destroyed when the system changed again." The fact that these statues of Tito are still being preserved, honored and commemorated up to the present day, even 40 years after the death of Tito and 30 years since the dismantling of Yugoslavia, is a testament to this work's artistic endurance and its legacy as a popular symbol. Even modern artists in the former Yugoslav region are inspired by it, such as when famous Zagreb-based modernist sculptor Ivan Fijolić made a recreation of the statue in 2012 where he faithfully produced a replica of the sculpture but replaced Tito's head with that of his wife Jovanka. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of various depictions of Josip Broz Tito were made over his lifetime by a multitude of painters and sculptors, however, Augustinčić's Tito would seem to stand and loom large over all the rest.


Versions of Augustinčić's Tito Statue

In the following sections, we will look a