"When the Museum is opened, my heart will be filled with enormous joy because the aim of my life will have been fulfilled, and my debt to my homeland and the Croatian people paid" (Ante Topić Mimara, Zagreb, 31 December 1985).
This sentence of Ante Topić Mimara best sums up the patriotic motives that led him to donate his own private collection of artworks to the Croatian people. Today's Mimara Museum is founded upon this generous gesture of his.
Ante Topić Mimara was a collector, a painter, restorer, lover and connoisseur of art, a great donator and benefactor to the Croatian people. A Croat who spent most of his life outside his own country, possessed of an enormous passion that never abandoned him – for the collection of works of art. And his lifelong project was to create a museum out of it. In his old age he moved to Zagreb, together with his collection, and worked towards the accomplishment of this project.
He was born on April 7, 1898, in the hamlet of Korušce, in the commune of Lećevica, Dalmatinska Zagora, the Dalmatian highland region. In his earliest youth he demonstrated a fondness for collecting. His love for art was encouraged, while he was still a boy, by the famed archaeologist Don Frane Bulić (1846 - 1934), who drew his attention to the exceptional importance of the historical monuments of Split and Salona. In World War I he was mobilised into the Austrian army. Going from one battlefield to another, he was wounded in one of the battles of Piave, and saw the end of the war in 1918 in Rome.
In Rome, Ante Topić Mimara started working in the studio of the well-known Italian painter Antonio Mancini (1852 - 1930), learning painting from him; soon, he started restoring as well. In the mid-20s he bought his first work of art, the beginning of the future collection that he expanded systematically. After Rome, he lived in Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Berlin. The whole of the time he went tirelessly round museums, galleries, antique dealers, auction houses. He studied art, and made friends with some of the leading German historians of art. He kept up with the market, and kept on buying. Before the war, he had already an important collection, and at that time, at the end of the 30s and beginning of the 40s, the first serious articles about works from his collection appeared in the distinguished German art magazine Pantheon. After the war, Ante Topić lived in Germany, and in the early sixties moved to Austria, having bought the castle of Neuhaus in Salzburg. For several years he also lived in Tangiers, and in the early seventies returned to Croatia, where he spent most of his time in Zagreb, right up to his death in 1987. For the whole of the post-war period, Ante Topić Mimara was increasing his collection, which in the end came to more than 3,500 items, having been equally interested in works of classical archaeology and Old Masters painting, sculpture and artistic crafts, oriental rugs and Chinese art.
Living as an expatriate outside his homeland, Ante Topić Mimara always kept the idea of Croatia close to his heart, constantly thinking of his return and the future donation. Thus as early as 1948 he gave Zagreb's Strossmayer Gallery numerous Old Master paintings and sculptures. The major part of his collection, the foundation of today's museum in Zagreb, which bears not only Mimara's name, but also that of his wife Prof. Dr. Wiltrud Topić Mersmann, was gifted in 1973 and 1986.