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Picasso the foreigner

Why was Picasso branded as an anarchist by the Police authorities on 18 June 1901, just two weeks before his first exhibition opened in Paris? Why were almost seven hundred paintings, drawings and other works from his cubist period sequestrated by the French government on 1 December 1914, for almost ten years? Why were his pictures almost totally absent from the country’s public collections until 1947? And finally, how was it that Picasso never became a French citizen? Although the artist’s work has generated exponentially increasing numbers of exhibitions, studies and comments commensurate with his immense talent, paradoxically Picasso’s status as ‘a foreigner’ has been neglected. This book aims to explore the topic.

To elucidate it, we have to exhume layers of buried documents, sleuth out unexploited archives, search through every box, open up every envelope, decipher untold manuscripts. The findings upend our understanding and reveal the unimagined complexity of this artist’s status.

“Un étranger nommé Picasso” (a foreigner named Picasso) whisks us off in the wake of a supremely talented artist and strategist, deftly weaving his way through a France beset by internal strife. We see how he imposes his masterful work, assembles his own networks and emerges to impel the modernisation of the country. A model to study, perhaps to follow.

Prix Femina for essays, 2021

Virtual access to works

Here you can find links to all the iconographic works cited in the book Un étranger nommé Picasso


Avril 2021
153 x 235 mm
748 pages
ISBN: 9782213711447







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Exhibition : Picasso, the foreigner

November 4, 2021–February 13, 2022
In collaboration with the Musée National Picasso-Paris

General Curator: Annie Cohen-Solal, historian,
assisted by Elsa Rigaux

> Download the press release

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Based on outstanding research by historian Annie Cohen-Solal, the exhibition reframes our understanding of the work and trajectory of Picasso, one of the greatest artists of all time.

It seems that everything has been written about Picasso. No other body of work has provoked as much passion, debate and controversy. But who knows about the obstacles that faced the young genius who first reached Paris in time for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, without speaking a word of French?  How did Picasso find his way in the modern metropolis, a place still shattered by the Dreyfus Affair? How did he navigate his first friendships, his first successes in Paris? Why was his application for naturalization denied in 1940? And how did he feel when his work was celebrated all over the western world, but remained invisible in the museums of his host country until 1947?

These are are some of the questions that Picasso the Foreigner addresses and answers. Picasso’s condition as a foreigner in France –even a pariah– deeply structured  his artistic creativity. Six years of research in previously unexplored archives reveal a drastically new narrative of Picasso’s years in France, a country of sometimes obsolete cultural institutions. In June 1901, at the time of his first exhibition at the Vollard Gallery, the police first opened a file about the young artist, then monitored him for decades. For forty years, in the eyes of French administrations, Picasso was stigmatized as an intruder, a radical, an avant-garde artist – all labels that he seemingly ignored, but that undeniably affected his daily life and work.

Beyond his considerable artistic oeuvre, Picasso was also a shrewd political strategist, becoming a significant contributor to France’s cultural modernization. In 1955, he left Paris for ever to settle in the Midi. There, he reinvented himself as a global artist and illustrious foreigner, while anchoring his work with local craftsmen, and openly contesting the standards of good taste which held sway in the French museum world. Today, in the midst of a global migration crisis, it appears essential, urgent and necessary  to reassess Picasso’s trajectory and work. His odyssey as a foreigner and his agency as an artist are powerful models for our times.

Through exceptional loans by the Musée National Picasso in Paris, the Museu Picasso in Barcelona and the Musée Picasso in Antibes, as well as other institutions such as the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, the National Gallery in Prague, the Centre Pompidou-MNAM, MAMVP, the Masurel-LaM collection, the Musée du Quai Branly and private collections, Picasso l’étranger establishes a new link between the artist’s works of art, archives (documents, photographs) and films.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, bringing together 25 writers and intellectuals from across disciplines and boundaries to consider the question of the foreigner. Picasso the Foreigner is a sequel to Un Étranger nommé Picasso (Paris: Fayard, April 2021), which was awarded the Prix Femina. Cohen Solal’s exhaustively researched account of Picasso and France is to be published by Farrar, Staux & Giroux (New York) in April 2023.


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