Queen Victoria in Paris: Curator’s Favourite
Thanks to the Queen Victoria in Paris: Watercolours from The Royal Collection exhibition in October – December 2016, we managed to get Rosie Razzall, the curator of the exhibition and Curator of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust, to share her favourite artwork from the exhibition.
One of the watercolours you can currently see on display in the Queen Victoria in Paris exhibition is particularly cheering at this dark, cold time of year. After Bonfire Night, Diwali, the switching on of festive lights and Compton Verney’s own light show, it seems appropriate to share Antoine Questel’s dramatic panorama of the illuminations in the gardens at the palace of Versailles at a ball held in Queen Victoria’s honour during her ten day visit to Paris in August 1855.
Running across the centre of the watercolour is an elaborate trellis, glowing bright white and orange against the clear night sky. Look closely and you can see the initials of ‘V’ and ‘A’, for the Queen and her husband, as well as ‘N’ for the French Emperor Napoleon III and ‘E’ for the Empress Eugenie, and the flags of the two nations. In the age before electric lighting, illuminations such as these would have been lit by metres and metres of gas tubing. It’s easy to think of watercolour as a muted artistic medium characterised by pale, translucent colours, but the startling glow of the lighting is captured wonderfully here, creating an unexpected and surprisingly fluorescent effect.
The ball at Versailles, the first to be held there since the 1789 revolution, was just one of many festivities that took place during her stay, captured in a series of watercolours that she kept in her albums as souvenirs. Queen Victoria, whose journal you can browse in its entirety online here, wrote about these illuminations, saying that the ‘yellow & green lamps, all along the grillage, with our initials at intervals…had a lovely effect, reflected in the water’.
Rosie Razzall, Curator