'For the artist, what is lacking most in Europe today is a spiritual atmosphere. One is surrounded by money questions - and faces seeking to make an effect, (so that) one no longer can look people into their face, their soul has become a money exchange... Is it possible for a strong art to prosper in a rotten soul?' (Lasar Segall, letter to Oscar Segall, 19 February 1923, quoted in Still more distant journeys: The artistic emigrations of Lasar Segall, exh. cat., New York, 1998, pp. 13-14).
Zwei Köpfe (Two Heads) was painted in 1919 at the height of Lasar Segall's involvement with the Dresden Secession Group of Expressionist artists known as the Gruppe 1919. Segall, along with Conrad Felixmüller was the leading exponent of this group of artists - an association of young Expressionist painters that also included, amongst others, Otto Dix, Pieter Böckstiegel, Constantin von Mitschke-Collande, Otto Lange and Otto Griebel.
At their first group exhibition held at the Galerie Emil Richter in April 1919, it was Segall's work that was singled out by the press as the leading example of this new Expressionist tendency in Dresden. Segall's expressive, semi-primitive portrait heads were interpreted as deeply expressive of a soulful and tormented humanity - one that many related to Segall's Russian Jewish origins. 'In heads larger than life,' the Hamburg critic and collector Rosa Schapire commented, 'fearfully opened eyes, painfully compressed lips, (and) tiny hands, there lurks a ghostly existence... Surface beauty, sensual appeal have no place in this creation. Exaggerated inner life, only what is necessary, what Segall calls "inner truth" and what seems to be the only essential reality in contrast to the interesting or "external truth", reveals itself here with overpowering might' (R. Schapire, 'Über den Maler Lasar Segall' in Kündung, Eine Zeitschrift für Kunst, 2 February 1921, p. 3).
Zwei Köpf was painted shortly after this exhibition and depicts two portrait heads of a man and a woman, tenderly leaning together and staring out at the viewer. In the aftermath of the First World War, the enlarged heads and doleful eyes of Segall's figures, shown confronting the viewer, conveyed a powerful sense of a gentle and mournful humanity. Segall's presentation of a naked, honest and pure humanity was like that of his fellow Gruppe 1919 member Conrad Felixmüller's, a radical act aimed at countering the corruption of the time and building a spiritual notion of a human brotherhood existing beyond the bounds of nations and class, - a true 'Internationale'.
Almost as soon as it was painted Zwei Köpfe was bought directly from Segall by Dr Hans Koch, a Düsseldorf doctor and patron, whose wife Martha was soon to marry Otto Dix. In 1920, when Segall had the extraordinary honour to be given his first one-man-show at the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Koch loaned the painting to this important exhibition.