Blending passionate, expressive brushwork with bold, effusive color, Joan Miró’s “La Publicatat” et le vase de fleurs is a testament to not only the young artist’s adventurous modernist spirit during the earliest stages of his career, but also the growing strength and confidence with which he deployed his unique artistic vision. Painted during the winter of 1916-19, when the artist was just 23 years old, this vivid composition centers on a complex configuration of traditional still-life elements—a vase filled with fresh blooms, a bowl of fruit, and a folded newspaper—set against the richly colored, highly ornate pattern of a piece of Majorcan fabric, masquerading as a tablecloth. In its powerful combination of angular forms, unusual treatment of space, and vivid color palette, the composition draws variously on the stylistic influences of Expressionism, Cubism, and Fauvism, illustrating the myriad of artistic inspirations that were shaping Miró’s painterly vocabulary at this time.
Upon finishing his preliminary artistic training at the Galí Escola d’Art in 1914, Miró set out to become a professional painter, though he found himself stalled in these efforts by his obligatory military service. Luckily, the artist was able to fit his painting around his duties as a soldier, taking over a small room in his family home on the Pasaje del Crédito in which to work, as well as a modest studio on the Carrer Sant Pere which he shared with his close friend Enric Cristòfol Ricart. Barcelona at this time a hub for artists and writers seeking refuge in neutral Spain during the First World War, and the city experienced a great cultural flourishing as a result. The Galeries Dalmau became a hub for the city’s bourgeoning avant-garde, hosting exhibitions of the latest French art, and organizing publications by such luminaries as Francis Picabia, recently returned to Europe from New York. Miró immersed himself fully in these dynamic artistic circles, engaging in the aesthetic debates that were swirling excitedly through the city at this time, absorbing different visual languages and theories from the exhibitions he visited and the figures he encountered, and approaching his own work with a new, revolutionary spirit.
In “La Publicatat” et le vase de fleurs a familiar everyday scene is transformed into an intricate study of pictorial tension, as the artist collapses the boundaries between the objects and their background, blurring the lines between the motifs within the fabric and the items placed atop it. Echoes of Paul Cézanne’s late still-lifes can be detected in Miró’s approach to perspective and the construction of form, while the Catalonian artist’s free use of bright, non-naturalistic colors and richly patterned draperies owe a clear debt to the Fauvist compositions of Henri Matisse, particularly those which employ Spanish fabrics, such as Nature morte, Séville II (Nature morte espagnole) from 1911 (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg). However, by introducing a series of thick folds and creases to the fabric, Miró creates a more dynamic surface than Matisse ever achieved, imbuing the tablecloth with an intense sense of energy, the sharp lines of its sculptural pleats zig-zagging across the picture with a dramatic dynamic force, leading the eye into the very depths of the scene.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the composition, however, lies in the fragments of newspaper that the artist has adhered to the surface of the canvas, the first example of collage in his oeuvre and an apparently deliberate quotation of Cubist experiments with papier collé. The most obvious example of this technique is the piece of the front page of the Catalan edition of La Publicatat, which is dated 2 February, 1929, that Miró subsequently added to the composition just over a decade later. In his writings on this early period of Miró’s work, as well as conversations with the artist, Robert Lubar has explained that the artist’s decision to adhere this particular newspaper was a deliberate choice; like the cubists before him, he has subtly manipulated the headline of the article, which was criticizing urban reform in Barcelona, so it states simply, “Art”, (R. Lubar, quoted in A. Umland, "Joan Miró’s Collage of Summer 1929: 'La Peinture au défil?’", in J. Elderfield, ed., Essays on Assemblage, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992, p. 70).
However, for Miró, these dynamic and varying influences were not mere quotations, but rather a means of reaching a new form of personal expression in his work. As Jacques Dupin has explained, "Miró borrowed from Cézanne, from the Fauves, and from the Cubists whatever weapons he found useful in his own personal war. All such elements are fused in the crucible of his imagination and perfectly integrated in a language exclusively his" (J. Dupin, Miró, transl. by J. Petterson, New York, 1993, pp. 53-56). Indeed, writing to his close friend Ricart in the Autumn of 1917, he emphasized the importance of moving beyond these influences, to reach an impulsive energy and rhythm all his own: "I think that after the grandiose French Impressionist movement which sang of life and optimism, and the post-Impressionist movements, the courage of the Symbolists, the synthesism of the Fauves, and the analysis and dissection of Cubism and Futurism, after all that we will see a free Art in which the 'importance' will be in the resonant vibration of the creative spirit" (Miró, letter to E. C. Ricart, Barcelona, October 1917, quoted in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, London, 1987, p. 52).
“La Publicatat” et le vase de fleurs was featured in Miró’s inaugural solo-exhibition in Barcelona at the Galeries Dalmau in February 1918. As Roland Penrose has eloquently explained, this exhibition established Miró’s reputation as an important new figure within the Spanish avant-garde: "The paintings he showed astonished all who saw them, not so much by the subject matter as by the brilliance of color and the originality of the style, already apparent even though he was at this time strongly influenced by the Fauve painters" (R. Penrose, Miró, London, 1995, p. 13). The exhibition received mixed, though largely positive, reviews in the press, with the critic of La Publicatat, for example, writing: "Of the new artists there is not one with as much spirit, spontaneity and enthusiasm as Joan Miró… All in all… magnificently bold and a mind permeable to modern currents … nevertheless, for the moment, he is detestable as a colorist" (J. Sacs, quoted in A. de la Beaumelle, ed., Joan Miró, 1917-1934, exh. cat., Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2004, p. 303). However, the general public were largely dismissive of his work, and the negative reactions he received in the wake of the exhibition convinced Miró that Barcelona was no longer a place in which he could reach his full potential as a modern artist, which led to his departure for Paris the following year.