The Comité Picabia has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Deux visages is an example of Francis 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. In each of these, rather than using the painting as a window to another world, normalising the illusionism at play, Picabia sought to stimulate the imagination by creating a surreal inter-lapping of imagery that confounded traditional reading. 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, exh. cat., Paris, 2003, p. 71). Drawing on classical imagery of biblical mythological, and art historical subjects, Picabia uses this technique to overlap and interlace multiple figures in a single composition, allowing their contours to converge and intersect in a confused array, deliberately challenging our understanding of the imagery before us.
In Deux visages, the influence of Sandro Botticelli is evident. The linear, elegant, beauty of the two classically proportioned profiles is reminiscent of the faces upon the deities portrayed in the Allegory of Spring (Primavera) and The Birth of Venus. The organic dark green forms and the pink floral tessellations hovering over the surface of Deux visages appear to echo the vegetation hovering over the surface of both compositions, peppered throughout the background and on the deity Flora’s gown. The two profiles overlap as if film stills of the same face in movement and as such, could reference the duplicity of the Chloris and Flora figures—the same deity in the process of metamorphosis—depicted in both of Botticelli’s compositions. However, they equally bear strong resemblance also to the figures of Zephyrus and Chloris on the left of the Birth of Venus, enveloped in fluttering flowers and foliage. The wide, dark eyes of Picabia’s faces gaze heavenward, reminiscent of religious subjects in devotion or ecstasy or the loaded eyes of sirens from the silver screen in silent films of the time, further alluding to his painted collage of sources.
In a statement about the Transparencies that Picabia made for the introduction of these works at his exhibition at Rosenberg's gallery in December 1930, Picabia humorously suggested that these works, as expressions of 'inner desire', were, ultimately, fiercely personal visions to be read and understood only by himself alone.
'I worked for months and years making use of nature, copying it. Now it is my nature that I copy, that I try to express. I was once feverish over calculated inventions, now it is my instinct that guides me... these transparencies with their corner of oubliettes permit me to express for myself the resemblance of my interior desires... I want a painting where all my instincts may have a free course... Those who have said ... that "I do not enter the line of account" are right. I take no part in no addition and recount my life to myself alone' (F. Picabia, introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition Francis Picabia, Léonce Rosenberg, Paris, 9-31 December 1930).