After many centuries of hostility, the Anglo-French rapprochement began in the 1840s with Queen Victoria's State Visit to France in 1845, the first ever by a reigning British monarch. This paved the way to greatly improved diplomatic relations and prompted, eventually, the historic alliance against Russia. The war in the Crimea began in the spring of 1854 and the novel experience of British and French troops fighting alongside each other needed every encouragement from their respective monarchs. Once the Crimean War ended, however some of the old suspicion of French intentions in Europe began to resurface, so much so that Lord Palmerston persuaded the Queen to invite the French Emperor and his wife Eugenie on a private visit to Osborne in August 1857 to re-cement the alliance. Although brief, the visit went so well that Napoleon III invited Queen Victoria to meet him at Cherbourg the following summer. In the event, this second supposedly informal meeting was completely overshadowed by the condemnation of the new French arsenal there by the English Press who voiced the opinion that Britain herself must be the target for all this weaponry. Napoleon demanded that Queen Victoria should silence her own newspapers and when the Queen replied that it was not within her power to do so, the mood of the visit deteriorated and it was terminated.
The sketch offered here, of the royal flotilla leaving Cherbourg for home, was presumably a preparatory drawing for a full-scale work to be completed later.