The Bowes Museum is the only venue in the North of England to host this stunning exhibition of watercolours, souvenirs of a momentous royal visit.
A historical coincidence lies behind this exhibition of 51 watercolours, created to mark Queen Victoria’s decadent state visit to Paris in August 1855: the founders of The Bowes Museum, one of only four venues in the UK that will host the showcase, were living in the French capital at the same time as the royal 10-day tour took place.
John and Joséphine Bowes – who met when John, son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore, bought the theatre Joséphine was performing in – are even likely to have attended some of the same festivities as the monarch, Prince Albert and their two eldest children.
Queen Victoria’s visit was notable not just for its ceremonial splendour, captured in the elaborate watercolours that were both commissioned by and gifted to the monarch following the trip, but also as a watershed moment in Anglo-French relations. In her diaries, Queen Victoria noted her pleasure at ‘this happy alliance’ after the tension that followed The Battle of Waterloo, as well as her delight at travelling the city incognito by carriage, her face hidden behind a black veil.
The experience inspired three watercolours of her own, which are included in the exhibition; Queen Victoria was both a passionate collector and practitioner of the form. Loaned by Her Majesty the Queen from the Royal Collection, the full set of watercolours hints at Queen Victoria’s artistic enthusiasm – reflected here by the Bowes themselves, who collected 15,000 objects in just 12 years, and with whom Victoria may once have crossed paths.