Eugne Boudin is one of the great natural self-taught talents among French painters of the nineteenth century. He did not begin studying art seriously until he was twenty years old, and he never received extensive instruction. Nevertheless, his unique sense of light and color, his choice of subject matter, and his encouragement of Claude Monet helped to make him one of the most influential artists of the century. Critics have widely acknowledged Boudin as one of the immediate precursors of Impressionism, and Monet himself said, "If I have become a painter, it is entirely due to Eugne Boudin" (quoted in J. Selz, Eugne Boudin, New York, 1982, p. 43).
The present picture, Le Havre. La fte des rgates, typifies the best characteristics of Boudin's art. Indeed, it has been called "un ravissant petit panneau qui sera un des fleurons de la collection de George Feydeau" (G. de Knyff, op. cit., p. 95). The palette of Le Havre. La fte des rgates is vivid and brilliant, featuring a lush mix of blues and whites, and the application of pigment is fresh and dynamic; the picture effectively captures the festive and joyous mood of the holiday crowd. Boudin felt a keen enthusiasm for the festivities surrounding regattas, and found great aesthetic inspiration in the effects of color and light at these events. Writing at about the time of the painting, Boudin said, "I have seen wonderful things, ftes filled with colors that are enough to make one feverish" (quoted in R. Benjamin, Eugne Boudin, New York, 1937, p. 74). On another occasion, he wrote, "Sometimes when I am walking in a melancholy mood, I look at the light which bathes the earth, shimmers on the water and plays on people's clothing, and I feel positively faint at the idea of how much genius is necessary to overcome so many artistic difficulties" (quoted in J. Selz, op. cit., p. 33). The shimmering highlights and brilliant colors of the Le Havre. La fte des rgates perfectly represent Boudin's reaction to the intense visual pleasure of the regattas.
Boudin, moreover, intended paintings of this kind to be representations of modern life, in the manner recommended by Baudelaire. In 1868, writing about Millet's pietistic peasant imagery, Boudin said of his own subject matter, "[Millet] is all right, but between you and me, the boulevardiers who walk on the jetty at sunset also have the right to be immortalized, to be brought out into the light, haven't they?" (quoted in R. Benjamin, op. cit., p. 74).
The sky is one of the most beautiful passages of Le Havre. La fte des rgates. Boudin was acutely sensitive to the beauty of the sky and he is among the greatest painters of cloud scenes in the nineteenth century. Boudin once wrote of his desire "to steep oneself in the sky. To capture the tenderness of the clouds. To let the cloud masses float in the background, far off in the gray mist, and then make the blue blaze forth" (quoted in J. Selz, op. cit., p. 41). Baudelaire equated the effect of Boudin's sky scenes to "an intoxicating drink or the eloquence of opium" (quoted in ibid., p. 43).
The provenance of Le Havre. La fte des rgates can be traced back to a sale at the Htel Drouot in April 1892 of property of a Mr. Martin. It is likely this person can be identified as either Pierre Firmin Martin or Ferdinand Martin, both of whom had died late in 1891. Pierre Firmin Martin was a Parisian dealer who had frequently sold works by Boudin. Ferdinand Martin was a merchant in Le Havre who was among Boudin's closest friends and chief epistolary correspondent. Much of what we know about Boudin's life and opinions comes from his letters to him. Of the two possibilities, it is more likely that Le Havre. La fte des rgates originally belonged to Ferdinand Martin. The painting was executed in 1869 and we know from Boudin's account books that he sold seven paintings to him that year, including "Deux vues du Port du Havre" and "Deux panneaux. Plages" (G. de Knyff, op. cit., p. 111). The present picture might be any one of these four works.