Picasso l’étranger at the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration from 4 November 2021 to 13 February 2022

Based on a stunning investigation by historian Annie Cohen-Solal, this exhibition takes a radically new look at one of the greatest artists of our time: Pablo Picasso. A stunning investigation by historian Annie Cohen-Solal.

I had the opportunity to read the book “Un étranger nommé Picasso”, Annie Cohen-Solal (Fayard 2021), before the summer of 2021, which a friend had given me for my birthday. I was looking forward to visiting the exhibition referring to the contents of this book which had awakened my curiosity and my great admiration for the documentary quality and the quality of the writing.

I loved the book. It confirmed my feelings as an artist, and reinforced my great admiration for Pablo Picasso’s ability to bounce back in his artistic approach and weave links in a country where he knew neither the culture nor the language.

As early as 1901, Picasso was mistakenly listed by the police as a “supervised anarchist”. For forty years he was regarded with suspicion as a foreigner, a leftist, an avant-garde artist. Until 1949, his work, though celebrated in the Western world, comprised only two paintings in French collections. But his political acumen enabled him to navigate with aplomb in a country with obsolete institutions, he settled forever in the Midi, choosing the South over the North, the artisans over the fine arts, the region over the capital.

Convinced of his genius, he arrived in Paris in 1900 without speaking a word of French. How did Picasso find his bearings in this modern metropolis, still shaken by the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair? How did he organise his first friendships and his first successes? Why, in 1940, when he was celebrated throughout the world, was his request for French naturalisation refused? Why did his work remain invisible in the museums of his host country until 1947?

Picasso’s existential situation as a foreigner in France conditioned his approach to artistic creation. For a long time, Picasso remained a hostage of the fine arts. The mythical painter was considered an outcast during his first four decades in France. Stigmatised or ostracised because he was a foreigner, a committed, avant-garde artist, the young Picasso lived under constant police surveillance from 1901.

But Picasso did not suffer, he explored, he moved forward and obsessively built his masterly work, immediately celebrated in the Western world but rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts, attached to preserving French “good taste”.

How does he build his networks to impose the norms of his own universe – inclusive, innovative, subversive? What strategies does the artist use to navigate a country shaken by waves of xenophobia and hampered by often obsolete institutions?

Doesn’t the odyssey of Picasso, a foreigner in France, resonate today for all those subaltern existences that come up against the rejection of the other?

Thus, Picasso remains a committed artist, even after his death!