Paritosh Sen
Paritosh Sen Paritosh Sen Paritosh Sen Paritosh Sen Paritosh Sen

Paritosh Sen

Paritosh Sen

Paritosh Sen

1918 - 2008

Paritosh Sen

Drawn to art through the pages of the Bengali art journal Prabasi, Paritosh Sen ran away from his home in Dacca (Dhaka), now in Bangladesh, to learn art in Madras.

Uninfluenced by the European modern art trends till the 1940s, Sen experimented with a vocabulary drawn from Indian idioms. Exposure to the works of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin, and other masters, through their reproductions during his teaching years at Art College, Indore, sparked off Sen’s interest in form. In 1942, he participated in the only exhibition of the Calcutta Group, of which he was a founder member.

However, it was Sen’s visit to Paris in 1949 that saw him formally acquainted with European art; he also met Pablo Picasso on this trip. Sen returned to India in 1954 and subsequently made paintings with themes from everyday life. His spontaneous response to the traumatic socio-political changes in West Bengal in the 1970s resulted in a series, where, along with large canvases, he installed a papier-mâché sculpture conveying a poster-like simplification of pop art, inspired by his travels in Mexico and Egypt.

Sen wrote on art for leading English and Bengali journals. In 1986, he wrote and illustrated a story in English, published by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. The French government conferred on him the L’officier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres and the Lalit Kala Akademi honoured him with the title of Lalit Kala Ratna in 2004. He passed away on 22 October 2008 in Kolkata.

‘The success of a painting lies in the artist’s willingness to deal with each painting on its own terms’


artist timeline


The artist is born on October 18 in Dacca (now Dhaka, in Bangladesh).


Moves to Calcutta and comes across books on European art and artists such as Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh and Gauguin, which are imported to cater to the needs of the soldiers of the Allied Forces in the city. Sen’s work begins to reflect certain changes due to this exposure: an unrestrained palette, bold lines, and an almost pointillist technique. He joins as art teacher at Daly College, Indore.


Forms Calcutta Group, the first Indian modernist artist collective that consciously draws on European modernism. Fellow artists include Gopal Ghose, Prodosh Das Gupta, Gobardhan Ash, Subho Tagore, Rathin Maitra, and Rabin Mondal. The group’s guiding slogan—‘Man is supreme, there is none above him’—and inaugural exhibition creates a stir in the art community.


Seeing an advertisement for a passage to Liverpool for £35 via the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, Sen finds ways to collect enough money for the journey as well as clothes. He visits Michael Brown, the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, who commissions the artist to design six covers at Rs. 200 each. Arriving in London, he earns money for his final destination—Paris— freelancing for the Indian section of B.B.C., and the occasional sale of his paintings.


Surendra Singh Alirajpur, the second secretary at the Indian Embassy in Belgium, also an old student of Indore’s Daly College, organises an exhibition of Sen’s works in Brussels. He is the first Indian artist to exhibit in Brussels and the show is a sell-out, providing Sen with enough money to live in Paris for a year. He arrives in Paris to study at Andre Lhote’s School, Académie de la Grande Chaumière, École des Beaux-Arts (mural painting) and at École du Louvre (history of painting), Paris. With the help of Nirode Majumdar, Sen, and fellow artist Sankho Chaudhuri, visit Brancusi in his studio in Montparnasse.


Paritosh Sen is heavily influenced by the styles and works of artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Brancusi, which is evident in his use of strong, bold lines, mixed palette and overall composition.


He attends the inauguration ceremony of the annual art exhibition, Salon de Mai, in Paris, and comes face to face with Picasso. The next day Sen visits Picasso in his apartment-cum-studio at Rue Gay Lussac to show the master his works. Picasso offers to organise an exhibition for him. However, Sen has made up his mind to return to India.


Returns to Calcutta. Although upset by the poverty around him, he is hopeful when he witnesses groups of rickshawallahs and others singing and dancing after a long day’s work, and thus begins to paint works with everyday life as his theme.


Moves to Netarhat near Ranchi to join Netarhat Vidyalaya as art teacher. The green, rugged landscape of Netarhat and its locals find their way into his compositions.


Returns to Calcutta and joins Regional Institute of Printing Technology, Jadavpur, as a layout and design teacher. Holds an exhibition of his recent works at Artistry House (now Park Hotel) which draws a lot of critical applause from the art community.


Holds a solo exhibition, based on Indian ragas and raginis, in London. He is invited by the Government of France to spend a year in Paris during which he designs the Bengali typeface, based on Rabindranath Tagore’s handwriting. In the same year, the West Bengal government commissions a documentary on his work.

Late 1960s

Sen’s works turn darker to reflect his ideological support for the Naxalite movement.


Prime Minister Indira Gandhi unveils Paritosh Sen’s portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru in Hyderabad.


Sen creates a series of new paintings reflecting human anguish and turbulence. The titles of the paintings are revealing enough: The Human Condition, Man Descending Through Space, The Fall, and so on. Paints portraits, two of them commemorating the famous singer Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan. For Sen, these works present the perfect amalgamation of his love for Indian music as well as his own strength as an artist. Santi P. Chowdhury writes, ‘One could stand before the canvases and hear the Ustad sing.’ The bold, black lines in his work give way to a burst of overlapping colours such as green, blue, red, yellow, and brown.


Leaves for Europe towards the end of the year, with a grant from the French government.


Receives a grant from the John D. Rockefeller III Fund, allowing him to travel to, and work in, U.S.A. Here, he predominantly paints expressionist canvases inspired by de Kooning.


The Bangladesh war has lateral political and cultural effects on West Bengal. Sen is unable to work for a while on his return as he is affected emotionally due to political and social unrest.


Having resumed work, Sen holds an exhibition at Birla Academy of Art and Culture based on a series featuring a bicyclist’s accident. For the centrepiece, he creates a papier mâché sculpture featuring himself as a cyclist with the backdrop lit up with contradictory traffic instructions. The influence of pop art is effective in communicating the artist’s distress.

Late 1970s

As a response to political turmoil, Sen creates a series of works with figures clad in a dhoti with garlands around their necks. Laden with irony and humour, the characters are meant to represent the political bigwigs of the time.


The Indo-Soviet Friendship Association invites him to exhibit his works in Moscow.


He begins to focus on figures and faces of men and women across all classes.

Early 1980s

Paints a series of twenty-four paintings based on Shri Ramakrishna’s gospel.


Serves as a visiting professor at Maryland Institute of Art, Baltimore, and also lectures on contemporary Indian art at various centres and institutes in U.S.A. His exposure to racial riots in America results in his Isabelle series of paintings.


His story, 'A Tree in My Village', is published by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. The text is designed in Sen’s own calligraphy and he also illustrates the folios. Is appointed commissioner of the Indian section of the Havana Biennale II, Cuba. Is invited to speak on Indian contemporary painting at Loomis Chaffee School by Allan Lundie Wise Lecture Fund, Windsor, U.S.A. Receives fellowship from Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi. A documentary is made on him by Doordarshan, Calcutta, titled One Day in the Life of a Celebrity.


Government of West Bengal awards him the Abanindra Puraskar for painting.


Is awarded the West Bengal State Lalit Kala prize for achievement in art.


Publishes Abu Symbol, Picasso O Anyanya Tirthe. The book, a tribute to Picasso and Brancusi, describes his visit to their studios and his travels and life in Paris. Publishes his autobiography, Zindabahar.


Is honoured with the Hirachand Dugar Award.


As recognition of his significant contribution to the arts, the French government confers on him the L’officier de l’orde des arts et des lettres, which is the Order of Arts and Letters.


Receives Lalit Kala Ratna from Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.


Holds a joint show with Tyeb Mehta at Gallery One, London.


Passes away in October.


dag exhibitions

The ‘Manifestations’ series of 20th Century Indian Art’, Editions V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI

DAG, New Delhi and Mumbai, 2011-14

‘The Art of Bengal’

DAG, New Delhi, 2012; Mumbai, 2014; New York, 2016

‘Indian Portraits: The Face of a People’

DAG, New Delhi, 2013; Mumbai, 2014

‘India’s Rockefeller Artists: An Indo-US Cultural Saga’

DAG, New York, 2017; Mumbai, 2018

‘India’s French Connection: Indian Artists in France’

DAG, New Delhi and New York, 2018

‘The Fifties Show’

DAG, New Delhi, 2020

‘The Sixties Show’

DAG, Mumbai, 2020

‘Navrasa: The Nine Emotions of Art’

DAG, Mumbai and New Delhi, 2020

‘Home is a Place: Interiority in Indian Art;

DAG, New Delhi, 2021

‘The Wonder of India: Explorations of 19th and 20th Century Art’

DAG, New York, 2021

‘Iconic Masterpieces of Indian Modern Art’

DAG, Mumbai, 2021

notable collections

National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi

Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, Mumbai

Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh

Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi

Roopankar Museum of Fine Arts, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal

Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Kolkata, India

The British Museum, London

archival media

The Statesman

28 January 2005

Hindustan Times

24 September 2007