Napoleon III Receiving Queen Victoria at Cherbourg, 5 August 1858

(Updated, June 2017) Between 4 and 8 August 1858, the Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie visited Cherbourg. On their arrival, they inaugurated the railway line linking the town to Paris. The following day, 5 August, they welcomed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who had been invited to view the opening of the Arsenal's second basin, called the Napoleon III basin.

This is a French artist's representation of the Emperor, wearing the full-dress uniform of a French admiral, receiving Queen Victoria on board the French flagship, 'Bretagne', at Cherbourg for a banquet on 5 August, the day after he had gone aboard the Royal Yacht 'Victoria and Albert II' to greet the visitors on their evening arrival with a full British naval escort (see BHC0638). He stands at the top of the gangway, waiting to receive his guests, who have arrived by royal barge and are waiting at the bottom of the gangway. Napoleon III was anxious to demonstrate to his British guests that his improvements to the naval base at Cherbourg did not constitute a threat to Britain. Thus, he invited Victoria and Albert, together with several politicians and naval officials, to inspect the improvements as a mark of trust.

The 'Bretagne' is shown in starboard-bow view at anchor in the centre of the painting, decked overall with flags and flying the Royal and the Imperial Standards. The deck is lined with French sailors waving their hats and there are also sailors in the rigging. In the centre foreground, the royal and imperial barges have been positioned, together with other French and English vessels, some dressed overall. To the right of Queen Victoria's barge, is a barge flying the Imperial Standard, full of French sailors waving their hats in salute. Other ships in the harbour are also firing salutes and there are other smaller craft full of spectators. The town and fortifications of Cherbourg are implied on the right. The Queen and the Prince Consort cut short their visit to Cherbourg partly because they were not prepared to stay until 8 August to witness the inauguration of the equestrian statue of Napoleon I by Armand de Veel. This evocation of French-English conflicts was further exacerbated by Victoria's perception of the superiority of the French Navy, on which she had already written severely to the Prime Minister, Lord Derby, on 2 August after reading what she saw as an alarming report on the matter by Sir John Packington: she returned to the subject in a further letter to Derby in January 1859. Thus, the visit had the exact opposite effect to that intended by Napoleon III and the British returned home unreassured.

The artist was born at Quimper, near Brest, and he became well known for his views of the Normandy coast. The picture is signed and dated 'Jules Noël 1859', bottom right, and bears an inscription about the visit bottom left.

Object Details

ID: BHC0637
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Noël, Jules Achille
Vessels: La Bretagne (1855)
Date made: 1859
Exhibition: Art for the Nation; Collecting for the 21st Century
People: France, Napoleon III Emperor of; Queen Victoria
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund
Measurements: Painting: 1645 x 2285 mm; Frame: 2100 mm x 2660 mm x 155 mm; Overall weight: 80 kg;

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