The Comité Picabia has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Executed in 1929, Ligustri is a captivating example of Picabia’s celebrated Transparency paintings, a series of works named for their simultaneous depiction of multiple transparent images, dramatically layered atop one another in an effect reminiscent of multiple-exposure photography. The artist had previously played with superimposition in the illusory cinematographic techniques of his 1924 film, Entr’acte, as well as in his paintings from the Monsters and Espagnoles series. He traced the genesis of this fascination with the layering of transparent images to a revelatory moment in a café in Marseille where, on the glass of a window, the reflection of the interior appeared superimposed upon the outside view (Francis Picabia dans les collections du Centre Pompidou musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, exh. cat., Paris, 2003, p. 71).
Picabia drew on a multitude of visual sources for the Transparencies, using prints and reproductions of classical sculpture, Renaissance paintings and Catalan frescoes, to build his compositions. Picabia’s son, Lorenzo, recalls his father having "a trunkful of art books in his studio," from which he most likely appropriated the majority of these images (Lorenzo Everling, quoted in Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, transl. by K. Lyons, Paris, 1985, p. 340). In Ligustri the influence of Botticelli is particularly evident, with the linear, delicate beauty of the two female faces reminiscent of figures from both the Bardi Altarpiece and Allegory of Spring (Primavera), while the tumbling blossoms at the centre of the composition can be linked to the Renaissance master’s iconic painting, The Birth of Venus. The lithe, muscular bodies whose contours merge with these faces, meanwhile, call to mind sculptures from Greco-Roman antiquity, although their exact sources remain unclear. In the case of each of the figures included in the painting, Picabia reduces their forms to a series of simplified outlines, stripping away the life-like modelling of their bodies and flattening the images in a deliberate denial of painterly illusionism. A defining feature of the Transparencies series, this technique creates an otherworldly pictorial space, devoid of the traditional laws of perspective, in which the figures appear to float and overlap one another in an ethereal manner.
Chosen for the mysterious effects of their juxtaposition with one another, the layered images in Ligustri combine to form an enigmatic, dream-like subject. By divorcing his source material from their original narrative and allegorical contexts, the artist forces these figures to enter in to new, mysterious relationships with one another. This sense of mystery continues in Picabia’s choice of titles for the Transparency paintings, with a large number, including Ligustri, taken at random from Paul Girod’s guide to butterflies and moths, L’Atlas de poche des papillons de France, Suisse et Belgique. Indeed, the word Ligustri is derived from the Latin term for the flowering privet shrub, and is commonly used in the names of several different species of moth which feed on the plant. However, the connection between this title and the contents of the painting is never communicated to the viewer, leaving its meaning an enigma to all but the artist.