Sen’s painting in permanent collection of Barbizon cultural center, France

About the painting in Marc Jacquet Culturel Espace, Barbizon: Sen Shombit is fascinated that painter Jean Francois Millet left Paris 1860 to paint rural France in Barbizon which then transformed into the cradle of Modern Art. Millet punched a window into a farmer’s barn to make his studio. A back staircase fired Sen’s imagination. In 2015 he painted Escalade d’un génie with Angelus from Millet’s famous namesake painting, paying homage to Millet’s daily climb to raise his 9 children in a small room after a productive day of painting.

About Jean Francois Millet: Mid 19th century saw Millet along with Theodore Rousseau create the Barbizon School of Art. Realist painter Millet influenced generations of artists including the Expressionist Vincent van Gogh, and Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Bazille who went on to found Impressionism.

About Barbizon: Just 50 km south of Paris is the beautiful Village of Painters, home to several artists and galleries amid the picturesque Fontainebleau forest.

The deep rooted source of Sen's French inspiration

Starting as a sweeper did not stop Sen from imbibing the deep inner sense of French art and culture…

Initially, a tourist friend had obliged him to visit Voltaire's house at Quai Voltaire in Paris. Later, immersing himself into the heart of the French artistic scene, he wondrously realized Voltaire's fundamental contribution to the French value of freedom. Sen discovered this artistic freedom expressed on canvas when artist Monet installed a forest garden at Giverny to express himself freely. This led to the genesis of modern art in 1870 which changed the world of art. No French King with every resource at his command could have created such a living garden. How was Monet inspired?

Sen learnt that a new art movement was emerging focused on landscapes and rural folks. It was artist Jean Francois Millet who had left Paris in 1849 for fear of cholera, went 60 kms away to Barbizon, hired a barn and transformed it into his painting atelier. Other artists followed him, and so started the Barbizon school of art that went on to influence the birth of modern art. From artists Monet to van Gogh to Renoir, all were swayed by Millet. Similarly for Sen, Millet's small maison atelier in Barbizon has become a pilgrimage place. This atelier museum does not have Millet's paintings today, they have all gone to collectors, mainly in USA. Inspite of coming from another culture, from a small squatted, slum-like refugee colony 10,000 kilometers away near Kolkata, Sen could experience the emotion and spirit of Millet in this small atelier. It was a spirit that had a huge dimension for the future of art, a spirit that gave access to Sen to be inspired by French artistry.

Millet's reason for leaving Paris revealed to Sen that Paris was being rebuilt to purify it from the plague that was becoming rampant then. Emperor Napoleon III had appointed architect Haussmann to stop the infectious disease. Haussmann destroyed the slums so the poor had to leave the city, which led to criticism that Paris has turned into a paradise for the rich. However, what Haussmann built in 1853 to 1870 has since become the all-time reference of art enmeshed in city architecture.

During this same period, author Victor Hugo wrote his famous book, Les Miserables. At one of Sen's regular nightly walks around authentic old areas of Paris to experience the old time feeling of the city, he suddenly discovered the house of Victor Hugo. It was 2 am when he turned a corner of Place des Vorges to find this genius writer's home. Sen's introduction to French literature started from here. He is fascinated by Victor Hugo's dramatic writing, and equally attracted to his incredible paintings in sepia colour. Sen finds Ile Saint Louis, the natural islet where Paris originated, to have remarkable urban planning with all one-way roads, but Place des Vorges definitely scores higher in his estimation. Place des Vorges, a true square of 140x140 built in 1605-1612 is more engrossing because Sen experienced the breath of history encased in this oldest square of Paris. Most importantly, it also nurtured artist-writer Hugo's compelling writing and striking application of light in his paintings.

Typically Paris by night for Sen was a stroll, not in Lido, but on the bank of Seine River. He would pause at the bookinists to devour the inspiring old books, photos, posters and artifacts they sold from temporary stalls. A poster that intrigued him was the back of a man wearing a red muffler. That 'Aristide Bruant in his cabaret' was written on it made Sen curious. In his mind cabaret meant nude dance, plenty of which was part of Parisian night life. He then discovered Toulouse-Lautrec had painted this poster. Sen was already familiar with Toulouse-Lautrec because in the Cachan lithography atelier where he had worked as a sweeper, he was helping an artist engrave lithographic reproductions of Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings La Modiste (The milliner) and Salle des pute (chamber of prostitutes). If Toulouse-Lautrec painted this, Aristide Bruant's cabaret has to be very interesting, thought Sen.

So he made his way to Lapin Agile in Montmartre where Aristide Bruant's cabaret since 1855 used a vaudeville-inspired mix of song, entertainment and 'comedy of the insult' satire to poke fun at the club's upper-crust guests who came "slumming" to Montmartre. That's how Sen differentiated Montmartre to be not touristic, but an artistic place where the cabaret is not nude dancing. Artists like Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire and Utrillo all spent time in such clubs. At the belle epoque time beginning 20 century, many artists such as Dali, Picasso, Modigliani, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, van Gogh and Mondrian had their studios here. Sen has since taken many of his friends on touristic visits to see the beautiful white-domed Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart Church) and the street artists, but for him Montmartre remains the vast sacred heart of visionary art.

Sen's childhood habit of walking down kilometre after kilometre on a river bank was restarted when he found the Loire river valley. It reminded him of walking down the Ganges river near his refugee colony where he would often take the ferry to cross the river and arrive at the erstwhile French colony of Chandan Nagar set up since 1673. This is what initially ignited him to come to France. The Loire valley walks inspired Sen. At first he was not enamoured of the Loire castles because they represented the establishment to him. But one day, after a French friend told him not to ignore the French Kings because they were the big patrons of art, Sen went inside the Castle of Amboise. That's when he found out that King Francis I had invited Leonardo da Vinci as his guest and bequeathed him a small castle called Clos Luce about 500 metres from Amboise castle. This is where Leonardo da Vinci lived his last 3 years. This is also how, Sen found out, that the painting Mona Lisa is in Louvre Museum, Paris, because da Vinci arrived with 3 paintings, one of which was Mona Lisa. Clos Luce has since become another pilgrimage place where Sen goes regularly to breathe da Vinci in France.

According to Sen, the French soil, sky and freedom of social and artistic culture magnetized immigrant artists such as Dutchmen Vincent van Gogh and Mondrian; Russians Chagall and Kandinsky; Spaniards Picasso and Dali, German Max Ernst and American Man Ray among others to blossom in France. With this inspiration, Sen did not just live in France, he totally drowned himself in the French artistic experience. That's why he continues to 'breathe France' with the Indian colours of his origin. The aesthetics, culture and artistic sense of France which he grew up with has been embedded in Sen's soul, and is expressed through his Gesturism style of art.

Briefly, what among others roused
Sen in France

House of Rose Valland: Sen has a friend who lives in St-Etienne-St-Geoirs, 94 km from Lyon. This village is home to Rose Valland who was curator of the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris during German Occupation of France in 1941. Sen is highly inspired by the brave French art historian Rose Valland, a member of the French Resistance who saved the systematic looting of artworks from French museum by Nazi plunderers during World War II. For 4 years Ms Valland kept secret from the Nazis that she understood German and recorded about 20,000 paintings the Germans stole and where in Germany they were being shipped to. She gave information of shipments by train to the French Resistance so they do not blow up those trains carrying France's art treasures. Sen visits Ms Valland's village often to pay his respects to an exceptional woman who risked her life to save priceless pieces of French art from Germany's Hitler who had denounced Modern Art to be "degenerate art" which should be destroyed. Hitler was not only a mass murderer, he was an art murderer too declaring that Modern Art artists are "incompetents, cheats and madmen" and that modernist experimentation will find no place in the Reich.

Clos de Luce:The house Leonardo da Vinci lived in at the end of his life is a pilgrimage point for Sen. On his first visit 25 years ago, Sen was mesmerized with the architectural precision he saw, that among rectangular windows was an arched one to distinguish the chapel. Inspired by such detailing, to bathe in Leonardo's genius and record it on canvas, Sen visits Amboise 3 to 4 times a year to spend a day soaking in the Master's ideas.

Monet's garden:Sen is in awe of an artist who could create his own inspirational garden as a subject to paint. From the train he was travelling in, Monet saw beautiful light falling in a place, identified it as Giverny and came back to buy the land to create his own garden which he transposed into canvas. This bridge in particular makes Sen traverse Monet's paintings to live in the artist's imagination. Every time he visits Monet's vast garden, he finds newness to return to.

Georges-Eugéne Haussmann (1809 - 1891) architecture and art deco (1920 - 1940s) metal curve: How Haussmann translated brick and mortar in a totally feminine form is what arouses Sen's curiosity. Every square feet area of Haussmann's architecture is recognizable as timeless art with its common thread of homogeneity. Another feminine character seen as Paris metro in the picture is the art deco movement's influence that's changing the solid character of metal to a soft roundness. This transformation and artistic co-existence totally inspires Sen.

Les Docks de Paris: The 1907 Paris docks on River Seine surrounded by beige and grey buildings was recently revamped as a metal lattice green wave to create a bright, distinctive object against the sober background. This kind of disruptive adventure in France, renovation turned to optimum space utilization incorporating contemporary requirements and becoming a talking point, totally captivates Sen.

Ministry of Culture and Communication: Sen fathoms that only audacious French creativity can execute this kind of dramatic yet practical impact of combining two buildings of different times, 1919 and 1960. He marvels at the fertile imagination that created this decorative metal net across the two disparate structures to make them one unit.

Jean Francois Millet homestudio in Barbizon Says Sen: "I really connected to Millet because he left the big city and hired a barn in a village to transform it into is atelier to paint the rural character. The idea of the French rural barn attracted me for its similarity to the mud walls of my refugee camp home."