Paritosh Sen: Encountering the Legend.

Paritosh Sen (1918-2008) stayed in England in 1949. And from 1950-1954 stayed in Paris, where he studied at Ecole des Beaux Arts, Academy Grand Chaumier, Ecole de Louvre & at Andre Lhote’s School. When he reached Paris in 1950, it was a living city of fine art. From the middle of the 1940’s the nerve-centre of modernism shifted to a great extent to New York. However Paris was still resplendent in her creative glory. Painters like Matisse, Braque,Picasso, Roualt, Chagall & sculptors like Brancusi & Laurence Gabo were working in full swing. The city boasted of around 400 art galleries in which some 50,000 artists from all over the world were working. Paris was then truly a holy shrine for art & the arts alike.


An early work by Paritosh Sen showing elements of cubism.

There were many Indian artists who were already working in Paris at that time-Nirode Mazumdar,a titan of 20th century Indian art was the first Indian to be awarded a French scholarship along with his sister Shanu Lahiri who had just received the President’s Gold medal(the first student of the Art College to do so)Raza,Ram Kumar,Padamsee & other Indian artists were already working there. Sen's main pre-occupation at that time was observing the varied paintings of the world-he was a regular visitor to the museums. He was also visiting the studios of other fellow artists.

Two very significant events took place during the first phase of Paritosh Sen’s stay in Paris. He considered these the greatest experiences of his life. The first relates to his meeting with Brancusi & the second one is about coming face to face with Picasso & the few intimate hours he spent with him. On 1st May 1953, in the exhibition at Salon de Mai he met Picasso for the first time. Picasso asked him to meet him at his studio at Rue de Grande Augustin. Accompanied with Barin Saha the film maker studying at Paris, Picasso met them at the door & embraced Paritosh. He introduced Paloma & Claude, his two children by Francoise Gillot to them. Paritosh who heard so much of the contradictory traits of Picasso found himself in his company.

Picasso was said to be extremely gregarious,one who enjoyed company yet fond of seclusion. He was reputed to be equally proud & arrogant. Known to have a shrewd business sense yet he was equally generous with his money. Sen unpacked his paintings & propped them against the walls & Picasso studied them carefully. He had remarked that they were well done & had beautiful colours. Since their stipulated time of 15 minutes were over, Sen started packing his paintings when suddenly Picasso interruped “I am still looking, are you in a hurry? I am not.” Paritosh said ” I have come here to listen to your criticism. I would consider myself highly obliged if you kindly point out my flaws in my work.” Picasso smiled. “I would say you are moving in the right direction” he said, “you have a nice way of mixing colours & considerable skill in composition. You must always pay attention to form.”


Throughout his long artistic career, Sen painted and drew thousands of self-portraits, often humourous laced with satire.

Then he went to make one suggestion, “Have you had any exhibition in Paris? If not, I can ask any gallery to hold it.” Without understanding the implications of this offer, Paritosh Sen said something very foolish, that he was returning to India & the tickets were bought. It remained a lifelong agony for Sen, refusing Picasso. Sen’s meeting with the most famous face of 20th century art had a lasting impact on him. Picasso’s cubism & its elements are evident throughout his long career as an artist of international stature.

Paritosh Sen strove to harmonise the indigenous art-forms of India with the post-impressionist & cubist art forms of European Modernism, which made him a venerated artist in India during his lifetime.


Vinayak Pasricha.