Carriages arriving at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris. The building is illuminated with eight pairs of gigantic obelisks lit with variegated lamps, gas jets which followed the architectural lines of the building, and tricolore and Royal Standard flags. The cathedral of Notre Dame is visible behind. Signed lower left: 1855. Max Berthelin. In August 1855 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spent ten days in Paris, on the invitation of Napoléon III and his wife Eugénie. The historic state visit was intended to celebrate the military alliance between Britain and France in the Crimean War, and followed a visit by the imperial couple to Windsor in April that year. On 23 August there was a municipal ball at the Hôtel de Ville, hosted by Baron Haussmann, Préfet de la Seine, who invited 8,000 guests. The architect Victor Baltard supervised the decorations. In January 1856 Baron Haussmann sent an album of 19 watercolours of the ball to Queen Victoria as a souvenir of the occasion. The watercolours were all executed by architectural pupils at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, all former winners of the Prix de Rome and described by Haussmann as `among our most distinguished painters and architects'. The album had an illustrated frontispiece, which is now lost, but is recorded in several photographic copies of the album that were made at the time and distributed among the administrative libraries of Paris. On 4 February Queen Victoria described looking at `the fine coloured illustrations, in a magnificent album, with a beautifully emblazoned account of the fine Fête at the Hôtel de Ville. This truly magnificent souvenir of my visit, has been sent to me by the Ville de Paris, through the Emperor' (Journal, 4 February 1856). The watercolours were arranged according to the route that Queen Victoria took through the building. During the Franco-Prussian War, the interior of the Hôtel de Ville was largely destroyed, and so these watercolours are a valuable record of those lost rooms.
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