Book details

Picasso the Foreigner

An Artist in France, 1900-1973

Author: Annie Cohen-Solal; Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

Picasso the Foreigner

Picasso the Foreigner


About This Book

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

“Absorbing [and] astute . . . Cohen-Solal captures a facet of Picasso’s character long overlooked.”...

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Book Details

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

“Absorbing [and] astute . . . Cohen-Solal captures a facet of Picasso’s character long overlooked.” —Hamilton Cain, The Wall Street Journal

“A beguiling read, as ingenious as it is ambitious . . . See Picasso and Paris shimmering with new light.” —Mark Braude, author of Kiki Man Ray: Art, Love, and Rivalry in 1920s Paris

Born from her probing inquiry into Picasso’s odyssey in France, which inspired a museum exhibition of the same name, historian
Annie-Cohen Solal’s Picasso the Foreigner presents a bold new understanding of the artist’s career and his relationship with the country he called home.

Winner of the 2021 Prix Femina Essai

Before Picasso became Picasso—the iconic artist now celebrated as one of France’s leading figures—he was constantly surveilled by the French police. Amid political tensions in the spring of 1901, he was flagged as an anarchist by the security services—the first of many entries in an extensive case file. Though he soon emerged as the leader of the cubist avant-garde, and became increasingly wealthy as his reputation grew worldwide, Picasso’s art was largely excluded from public collections in France for the next four decades. The genius who conceived Guernica in 1937 as a visceral statement against fascism was even denied French citizenship three years later, on the eve of the Nazi occupation. In a country where the police and the conservative Académie des Beaux-Arts represented two major pillars of the establishment at the time, Picasso faced a triple stigma—as a foreigner, a political radical, and an avant-garde artist.

Picasso the Foreigner
approaches the artist’s career and art from an entirely new angle, making extensive use of fascinating and long-overlooked archival sources. In this groundbreaking narrative, Picasso emerges as an artist ahead of his time not only aesthetically but politically, one who ignored national modes in favor of contemporary cosmopolitan forms. Annie Cohen-Solal reveals how, in a period encompassing the brutality of World War I, the Nazi occupation, and Cold War rivalries, Picasso strategized and fought to preserve his agency, eventually leaving Paris for good in 1955. He chose the south over the north, the provinces over the capital, and craftspeople over academicians, while simultaneously achieving widespread fame. The artist never became a citizen of France, yet he generously enriched and dynamized the country’s culture like few other figures in its history. This book, for the first time, explains how.

Includes color images

Imprint Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



In The News

"[A] propulsive read [. . .] with a peppery twofold brief . . . In Cohen-Solal’s account, French xenophobia, primal and entrenched, was a major shaper of Picasso’s biography, and it’s her tracing of it that makes her book distinctive . . . This is an apt moment to bring the in-every-way complicated figure of Picasso into the picture, as this accessible multitasking book [. . .] does . . . A form of art history as protest." —Holland Cotter, The New York Times Book Review

"[Cohen-Solal's] biography illuminates Picasso’s paradoxical situation, in which the institutional forces 'obsessed with the idea of a national cultural purity' viewed him with suspicion even as he was idolized by French galleries and critics." The New Yorker

"In Picasso the Foreigner the French writer Annie Cohen-Solal cuts through the usual fluff about Parisian bohemia (goodbye absinthe) and takes us instead north of the city, to the archives building of the French police. Consulting yellowed documents, she tracks the xenophobia that followed Picasso in his adopted homeland, where the police branded him an alien." Deborah Solomon, The New York Times

"Absorbing [and] astute . . . [Cohen-Solal puts] her imprimatur on an exhaustively examined life . . . [She] positions herself as an investigative journalist, pursuing leads neglected by other writers . . . [Her] portrait reaches admirably beyond the heroic, flawed Übermensch of John Richardson’s multi-volume (and never-completed) biography . . . Cohen-Solal captures a facet of Picasso’s character long overlooked." —Hamilton Cain, The Wall Street Journal

"[A] sturdy, unconventional biography of Picasso . . . We get too much literature about the artist every year, too little of it of any real substance. This book, however, is different . . . [Cohen-Solal] evoke[s] fascinating insights about Picasso’s art." —Alex Greenberger, ARTnews

"[Picasso the Foreigner] reads like a pulsating thriller." —Nazanin Lankarani, The New York Times

"[Picasso the Foreigner] manages to approach the great artist from a new and revealing perspective . . . [Cohen-Solal] makes the compelling case that Picasso’s status as an outsider was integral to his genius for boundary breaking." —Claire Messud, Harper's

"Cohen-Solal’s reporting casts Picasso as an explicitly political subject, showing how his art became ensnared in a larger identity crisis facing France." Art in America

"Cohen-Solal makes a strong case that Picasso's expatriate identity largely determined the trajectory of his life and oeuvre . . . A robust, prodigiously researched art history." Kirkus Reviews

"[Cohen-Solal] has done scholars a service by doggedly working through the archives to see how this great artist responded to repeated threats to his stability as an outsider in France . . . This hydra of a book, one head assessing Picasso’s art, the other looking at how he negotiated his position in France in politically tense times, is strongly recommended to all Picasso enthusiasts." Library Journal

"A beguiling read, as ingenious as it is ambitious. Follow Annie Cohen-Solal on her provocative 'treasure hunt' through the archives and into the unexpectedly intertwined histories of art, immigration, and surveillance, and see Picasso and Paris shimmering with new light." Mark Braude, author of Kiki Man Ray: Art, Love, and Rivalry in 1920s Paris

"This inspired and innovative biography demonstrates that Picasso’s visionary approach to art was fundamentally shaped by his experience of being a 'foreigner' in France. Once you have read it, you’ll never see his work the same way again." —Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse

"A hitherto-unfamiliar, migrant, unassimilable, recalcitrant Picasso whose ever-rebellious spirit never succumbed to the glory of his worldly success comes to life in Annie Cohen-Solal's magnificent and evocative biography of the artist. Picasso the Foreigner gives us a fresh perspective from which to view his oeuvre. Meticulously researched, it speaks to contemporary concerns about race, class, identity, exclusion, and radical forms of subaltern cosmopolitanism. A brilliant tour de force." —Dipesh Chakrabarty, professor of history at the University of Chicago and author of Provincializing Europe

"In our own frightening time of anti-immigration phobia, Annie Cohen-Solal's new book almost reads like a mystery novel. She is a relentless investigator, who probes Picasso's perilous journey from an unwanted hobo migrant in Montmartre to a prince of the avant-garde. This is a magical book." Jerome Charyn, author of Big Red and The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

"Annie Cohen-Solal is a life-historian in peak form. She captures Picasso’s multiple lives as he transcended borders and shattered genres—while suspected by France’s art establishment and surveilled by France’s police informers and snitches. Cohen-Solal’s Picasso was a worldly figure navigating a world of oftentimes cruel nationalism. Picasso the Foreigner is a remarkable work of art and an important work of research excavation." —Jeremy Adelman, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University

"Annie Cohen-Solal’s magnificent biography, deeply researched in French archives and attentive to the contributions of the social sciences, reveals a hitherto unknown Picasso whose artistic strategies and identities were informed by his status as a foreigner. Her work is a remarkable contribution not only to Picasso studies but also to the history of twentieth century France." —Peter Sahlins, professor of history emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley

"Picasso survived, thrived, and fed his creativity by using his foreignness strategically to advance his aesthetic and political causes in France, Spain, and internationally. He simultaneously was shaped by and challenged the worlds in which he lived. Delving into letters and records and engaging in deep investigations no one else has, Cohen-Solal offers a stunning indictment of the French establishment, from its police to its academies, while also presenting a complex picture of a genius, his friendships, his politics, and his art. This tour de force offers a new and revelatory portrait of Picasso." Margaret Levi, professor of political science at Stanford University

"Annie Cohen-Solal's fascinating inquiry, via history and sociology, has produced a true polyfocal book and a conceptual revolution on the Picasso narrative. With the new horizons that she opens up, we get the revisited image of a genius who was long perceived through an artistic prism only." —Laurent Le Bon, president of the Centre Pompidou, Paris

About the Creators

Picasso the Foreigner

Picasso the Foreigner