Cohen-Solal’s Picasso the Foreigner, ably translated by Sam Taylor, manages to approach the great artist from a new and revealing perspective ... Her book makes the compelling case that Picasso’s status as an outsider was integral to his genius for boundary breaking.
Absorbing, astute...nimbly translated ... Picasso the Foreigner skips around impatiently, but key sections gel beautifully, such as the author’s analysis of the charged symbiosis between Picasso and Georges Braque ... There’s gossip, too, about money woes, bad romances and intellectual feuds ... Ms. Cohen-Solal positions herself as an investigative journalist, pursuing leads neglected by other writers, but her through-line fades in and out, like a forest path. Her detours into contemporary protests and riffs on civil-rights thinkers such as W.E.B. Du Bois (who visited Paris) occasionally feel contrived, although they offer rich context ... And yet Ms. Cohen-Solal’s portrait reaches admirably beyond the heroic, flawed Übermensch of John Richardson’s multi-volume (and never-completed) biography ... Picasso the Foreigner largely succeeds by following a narrow trail through the artist’s monumental career.
An outsize but propulsive read (600 pages in snack-size chapters) with a peppery twofold brief ... The book’s narrative is linear in a peripatetic, back-and-forth way ... Many of its elements are beyond familiar: the people (dealers, other artists, spouses and lovers); the places (Spain, Paris, the South of France); the creative metabolism with its swings between paradigm-zapping and product-churning ... 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. She cites examples — some more convincing than others — of its operations early and late ... [An] accessible multitasking book — a critical biography that is, in fact, only glancingly critical of its artist-subject ... Indeed, what the book really is, or wants to be, is a form of art history as protest. Cohen-Solal’s recurring first-person appearances throughout make this clear ... Thematically insistent.
An ambitious new interpretation of Picasso's life ... But Cohen-Solal is not primarily concerned with the unfolding drama of Picasso’s art, his serial breakthroughs and serial lovers. Instead, she takes aim at Picasso’s adoptive country and what she sees as its systematic failure to embrace him ... Part dogged investigation, part extended polemic, Picasso the Foreigner is organized around a provocative claim: Because of his immigrant background, Picasso was continually rejected and marginalized by the French establishment ... Cohen-Solal lays out her case in a formidable battery of documents, statements, immigration policies and sociological research ... Cohen-Solal makes some interesting discoveries ... Less appealing is Cohen-Solal’s habit of overdramatizing her research ... A deeper problem with Picasso the Foreigner lies with its central argument. In Cohen-Solal’s reading, the United States — along with Germany and Russia — was far ahead of France in its openness to avant-garde art. This is incorrect.
Her extensive research into French police files shows that Picasso was under constant Paris surveillance, suspected of belonging to an anarchist cult. The author makes explicit the link between the perceived threat of Picasso as an 'alien suspect' and the fear of today's migratory caravans traversing Europe ... A robust, prodigiously researched art history.