The Bretagne, painting by Jules Achille Noël, 1859, at the National Maritime Museum, London UK.
Oil on canvas.
164.2 × 228.5 cm (64.6 × 90 in).
Napoleon III Receiving Queen Victoria at Cherbourg, 5 August 1858
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. 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 travelled to France in the Royal Yacht 'Victoria and Albert', escorted by a large squadron of ships. They 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. Thus, the visit had the exact opposite effect to that intended by Napoleon III and the British returned home infuriated. After reading a damning report drawn up for her by Sir John Pakington, First Lord of the Admiralty, Victoria wrote a severe letter to Lord Derby, the Prime Minister, criticizing the state of Britain's navy.