Maurice DENIS | Regatta at Perros-Guirec [Régates à Perros-Guirec]

Maurice DENIS
France 1870 – 1943

Regatta at Perros-Guirec
[Régates à Perros-Guirec]
oil on canvas
canvas 42.2 (h) x 33.5 (w) cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Quimper, on long-term loan to the from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris , Accepted in lieu of tax 2001
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

The annual regatta at Perros-Guirec, on the Brittany coast, was held in late July. Many spectators gathered to bathe or to watch the boats at this popular event. Denis returned to the subject several times.1 He captures the brilliance of the water, the vibrant colours of the fishing and pleasure craft, the animated details of the crowd and the decorative qualities of the surfaces.

As Guy Cogeval points out much of the originality Regatta at Perros-Guirec derives from the ‘radical visual effects used by Denis: the extremely high line of the horizon and the exaggeratedly low viewpoint’.2 This plunging composition is made flat by the white, lace-like pattern of arabesques on the surface of the water and the mast, to startlingly different effect.3 Denis’ palette is dominated by black and white, with apricot and olive-green used for the mid-tones. The work is structured around a series of triangles: the white sails of the boat are reprised by the mast with its radiating stays, and again by the pyramid of figures in the foreground. A further series of triangles, this time in a horizontal line, is found in the boat’s sails, culminating in the tiny pale pink shapes at left. The highly simplified geometric forms of the boats, juxtaposed at impossible angles, are echoed by the flag flying atop the mast. At the end of the jetty, three female figures and a small child—distinguished only by their white headdresses and neck scarves—merge into a single mass. The composition of Regatta at Perros-Guirec has many similarities with another, earlier work, Calvary 1889, with its mass of black figures, landscape constructed in bands and attention focused upwards. The mood, however, could not be more different.

Denis first visited Brittany as a child, and stayed at Perros-Guirec in 1892, returning there the following year to honeymoon with Marthe. In 1908 he bought a villa, ‘Le Silencio’, and Perros-Guirec became the site for the Denis family summer holidays. The place must have had many happy associations for the artist and Regatta at Perros-Guirec resonates with the pleasures of time and place.

Lucina Ward

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. Another version, c. 1892, is at verso of a work in a private collection; see also Regattas at Perros-Guirec view from the east jetty1897, Musée Départemental Maurice Denis ‘Le Prieuré’, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
  2. Guy Cogeval, ‘Regattas at Perros-Guirec’, in Maurice Denis 1870–1943, Ghent: Snoeck-Ducaju and Zoon 1994, p. 149.
  3. As Nathalie Bondil observes, these arabesque patterns were a central part of Denis’ formal vocabulary at the time and feature in many of his other works; in Easter procession (under the trees) 1892, private collection, for example, the arabesques become shadows. Maurice Denis (1870–1943), Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux; Montréal: Musée des Beaux-arts de Montréal 2006, cat. 27, pp. 141–42.