It was while he was on visit to Paris in 1901 that he produced this amazing painting, which has never previously been on exhibition and may well have been a draft for the decoration of a private chapel. The work depicts the Middle Ages’ great heroine, Joan of Arc, as a warrior, head bare but otherwise in armor, mounted on a galloping, armor-clad horse. She is holding a large banner in her right hand, in the colors of the French Republic but also featuring a Sacred Heart of Jesus. The unexpected presence of the symbol on the French Tricolor may well be an allusion to the Catholics’ rallying to the Social Republic at the end of the century; later on, it would become the symbol of France’s Catholic nationalist right’s rallies. The halo around the young woman’s head is also to be understood in the context of the Catholic campaign for her beatification (obtained in 1909) and canonization (1920).
Although, prima facie, the choice of subject might seem odd for an artist involved in Catalan “modernism”, it should be borne in mind that Joan of arc was hugely popular both in France and abroad, and had become one of western history’s most admired and depicted female figures over the course of the 19th century. Joan inspired writers and painters of all stripes, was the subject of plays and was soon to make her appearance in movies. The late 19th century’s renewed enthusiasm for the “Maid of Orleans” also corresponded to artists’ interest in the works of England’s pre-Raphaelites and Wagner’s operas, and in their figures of mystical knights in quest of the ideal with whom the symbolists identified.
Adrià Gual i Queralt output of paintings was small, with production limited to the years between 1890 and 1900. He was influenced by French cloisonnism, Puvis de Chavannes and Art Nouveau, as is evident in this Joan of Arc. The simplified, dynamic composition, flattened areas devoid of perspective, bright colors and seemingly sketched-out quality bear witness to the close ties between his approach to painting and his activities as an illustrator, poster artist and painter-decorator for the theatre. As with many artists of his generation, Gual wanted to do away with the hierarchy between the arts and dreamt of the Wagnerian “total artwork”.