‘The world in which Anne Estelle Rice found herself in Paris, from 1906, was one seething with ideas and activity in every branch of the arts. This was the Paris of the Post Impressionists, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, the Fauves, Leon Bakst, Picasso; the list could go on forever. This was a unique opportunity to absorb the influences of a fertile creative climate’ (Exhibition catalogue, Anne Estelle Rice 1875-1959, London, The Annexe Gallery, 1978).
Depicting the scene of a sunny and well-attended boat race, Regatta Day is a classic example of Anne Estelle Rice’s attention to expressive colour and harmony of shapes. In this work three areas are comfortably arranged around each other: the water and boats occupying a large foreground, the warm orange of the houses stretching down the side of the image, and the rolling hills of French countryside stretching into a near distance behind. Her interest in theatre, which her career began to turn towards in the years following this painting, informs the composition design and sense of place created here: the scene feels like a prelude built up as a set in which action will shortly unfold.
As source material for her paintings, Rice accumulated sketches, picture postcards and more, bringing these together to express a feeling of place, rather than depict a specific scene in front of her as many of her contemporaries preferred to do. In line with her previous work as a magazine illustrator, her priority in paintings too was the visual design of the work, rather than a sense of loyalty to depicting the particular set of characters within it. Upon moving to France in 1906, her style dramatically changed, and was in many ways liberated from the more careful and commercial designs she had worked on in Philadelphia for fashion magazines including Harper’s Bazaar, Saturday Evening Post and the Metropolitan Magazine. The summer of 1907 saw Rice travel to the north-east coast of France where she met fellow artists Samuel John Peploe and John Duncan Fergusson, the latter of whom became her romantic partner for many years. Absorbed into a social scene of post-impressionist painters, she was persuaded to take up painting and found herself interested by the reduction of landscapes and populated scenes into their basic geometries, filling each block with richly applied colour. Thus began the path as a modernist painter, where she exhibited in the Salon d’Automne from 1908-13, even being elected as one of its Sociétaires in 1910.
The prominent modernist writer Katherine Mansfield developed a close friendship with Rice. In a letter to the artist in 1920 she expressed a touching sentiment to Rice’s artistic lens for the world: ‘All the flowers I share with you and the lemon groves and orange trees. I see little houses perched up on the high hills and dream we are there sur la terrasse. I shall always love you like that. When the light is lovely I think, Anne would see it, and when a funny old man stands in the middle of the road cursing his goats it’s a drawing by Anne’ (K. Mansfield, quoted in C.A. Nathanson, The Expressive Fauvism of Anne Estelle Rice, New York, 1997, p. 32).