Queen Victoria in Paris

Queen Victoria's Momentous Visit to Paris, 18-27 August 1855

The Bowes Museum is delighted to announce an exhibition of watercolours, opening in spring 2018, generously loaned by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection.

The Museum is one of only four venues in the UK – and the only one in the North of England - to stage Queen Victoria in Paris, an exhibition of watercolours commissioned by the monarch as a souvenir of her momentous 10-day state visit to Paris in August 1855. The paintings provide both a fascinating record and a lasting legacy of the opulence, pomp and pageantry surrounding the trip.

The visit by the royal party, which included Prince Albert and the couple’s two eldest children, Victoria and Albert Edward (later King Edward VII), marked a turning point in Anglo-French relations, strained since the defeat of Napoleon I at Waterloo 40 years earlier.

The thaw began when Bonaparte’s nephew, the self appointed Napoleon III, and his wife the Empress Eugénie, keen to reconcile France with Britain, visited the Queen at Windsor Castle in the spring of 1855 at the suggestion of Prince Albert. Initially mistrustful, Victoria was soon captivated, and delighted to accept the Emperor’s reciprocal invitation to visit Paris in August of that year.

The Paris of 1855 was a hugely exciting place to be, even for a queen. Queen Victoria visited during the Exposition Universelle, the international exhibition of fine arts and industry – closely modelled on her husband’s Great Exhibition staged at London’s Crystal Palace in 1851.

The visit of the ‘Reine de l’Angleterre’ was met with much anticipation in France; the Queen greeted by cheering crowds as she embarked on a packed schedule of ceremonial and cultural engagements, interspersed with entertainments laid on in her honour.

This period in history coincides with the time when John and Joséphine Bowes were living in Paris and forming the collection that would become The Bowes Museum, so they would no doubt have attended some of the festivities.

An evening gala performance at the Opéra saw the royal party receive a ‘hearty reception’’, with God save the Queen ‘sung splendidly, amidst enthusiastic cheers.’

As Victoria recalled in her journal . . .

‘. . . another most splendid day. Most truly do the Heavens favour & smile upon our visit & upon this happy alliance. It was the same when the Emperor and Empress came to us in April.’

As well as being politically significant, the visit was personally very exciting for Victoria, delighted at completing a carriage tour of Paris incognito wearing a black veil over her face. She recorded the 'never to be forgotten week' rapturously in her diary, boasting of 'the closest alliance which has almost ever existed between two great, independent nations'.

As a passionate collector of watercolours since the early 1850s, those featured in the exhibition were either commissioned by the Queen or presented as gifts by the artists as a souvenir of her visit. Queen Victoria was herself a keen watercolourist, and three of her own works made during the Paris tour are included in the exhibition, which opens on 24 March 2018, running until 24 June.

Adrian Jenkins, Director of The Bowes Museum, said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to share with our visitors these beautifully preserved watercolours, generously loaned by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection.”

The exhibition will be complemented by a programme of events, which will be rolled out on the Museum’s website at www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk, beginning with the following by Rosie Razzall, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Royal Collection Trust:

Queen Victoria, Napoleon III and the Events of 1855

Date 15 May Time 2.30pm

Join Rosie Razzall, Curator of Prints and Drawings at Royal Collection Trust to learn more about Queen Victoria's historic state visit in Paris in 1855;  a remarkable moment in Anglo-French relations. The events of this ten-day tour – spectacular balls, firework displays and cheering crowds as well as the quieter moments – are brought to life through discussion of the watercolours on display in the fascinating exhibition Queen Victoria in Paris. 

Notes to editors:

·         The Bowes Museum was created over 100 years ago by an extraordinary couple, John and Joséphine Bowes.  Together they built up the greatest private collection of fine and decorative arts in the North of England and constructed a magnificent building to house them in.  The collection contains thousands of objects including furniture, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles and many other items covering an extensive range of European styles and periods.  

·         The Bowes Museum receives a core funding grant from Durham County Council and as a Major Portfolio Museum receives support from Arts Council England.

·         The Bowes Museum has undergone major redevelopment, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, One NorthEast through the County Durham Economic Partnership, English Heritage, Northern Rock Foundation, The Monument Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, The European Regional Development Fund, DCMS/Wolfson Museum and Galleries Improvement Fund, Designation Challenge Fund, The Shears Foundation, The Richard and Suzanna Tonks Family Fund at County Durham Foundation, Durham County Council, The Friends of The Bowes Museum, The Headley Trust, Sir James Knott Trust, Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust, Fenwick Ltd, Mercers Charitable Foundation, Welton Foundation.

·         The Bowes Museum is a member of the Discover Durham partnership of attractions. Our commitment is to promote Durham as an exciting and vibrant group travel destination and to provide the travel trade with a professional and knowledgeable service: hotline number 0191 301 8531, www.discoverdurham.co.uk

·         Royal Collection Trust, a department of the Royal Household, is responsible for the care of the Royal Collection and manages the public opening of the official residences of The Queen.  Income generated from admissions and from associated commercial activities contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational programmes. Royal Collection Trust’s work is undertaken without public funding of any kind. www.royalcollection.org.uk

·         The Royal Collection is among the largest and most important art collections in the world, and one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact.  It comprises almost all aspects of the fine and decorative arts, and is spread among some 15 royal residences and former residences across the UK, most of which are regularly open to the public.  The Royal Collection is held in trust by the Sovereign for her successors and the nation, and is not owned by The Queen as a private individual. At The Queen’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh aspects of the Collection are displayed in a programme of temporary exhibitions.  Many works from the Collection are on long-term loan to institutions throughout the UK, and short-term loans are frequently made to exhibitions around the world as part of a commitment to public access and to show the Collection in new contexts.  Explore the Royal Collection at www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection

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