Why Was Picasso Considered a ‘Danger’ to France?


On June 18, 1901, Pablo Picasso started taking on a new identity—without ever realizing he had done so. He had begun the process of becoming "foreigner number 74.664," a label given to him by the French police, who would go on to assign him the status of "un Fiché S.," an alien who had been put under surveillance by the state.

Picasso, who had been born more than 20 years earlier in Málaga, Spain, had aroused the suspicion of authorities because he had associated with Pierre Mañach, a dealer whom the French police had determined was an anarchist. 

Even though Picasso would sever ties with Mañach four years later, believing that the Spanish dealer was exploiting him, the police did not let up. They would continue to amass a file about Picasso's activities, and their findings would continue to hinder the artist, who was repeatedly tarred as a métèque, a foreigner, in the country he called home for much of his career. The police investigation would continue to haunt him, as it did in 1940, when he was denied naturalization on the basis that he was a "suspect from the national point of view." By the end of the '50s, Picasso had given up on becoming a Frenchman altogether, embracing his status as an étranger.

It can be hard to recall a time when France hated Picasso, who now has museums dedicated to his art and life in Paris, Antibes, Vallauris, and elsewhere. The Paris institution is one of the many that's now toasting him to mark the 50th anniversary of his death in 1973. And so it is with surprise that many American readers will now greet Annie Cohen-Solal's Picasso the Foreigner: An Artist in France, 1900–1973, which has at long last arrived stateside, via an English translation by Sam Taylor, two years after its release in France.

The book, along with a related 2021 exhibition based on Cohen-Solal's research conducted in police archives and elsewhere, got a good amount of attention in France, and this unconventional biography of Picasso ought to attract similar recognition in the US. This book, however, is different. The research presented within is not new—word of Picasso's surveillance by the French police first emerged 20 years ago—but Cohen-Solal's take on it is fresh.

Read more: artnews.com