Vosages, Metzeral, France
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The Bois de Boulogne in north-west Paris, with groups of visitors. At the centre is the Lac Inferieur with the Moorish pavilion on an island. Signed and dated lower right [partly cut off]: Français 1855. 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. The party stayed at the Château de Saint-Cloud, to the west of Paris, which was later destroyed in the Franco Prussian war. They travelled daily through the Bois de Boulogne on the way into the city, when Prince Albert was quite astonished at it, and the wonderful improvements that have been made (journal, 19 August 1855). The suburban park had recently been remodelled as part of Haussmann's plans for the new Paris in order to create a recreational space for the expanding suburbs. During his time in exile in England, Napoléon III had greatly admired English parks and gardens. The design for the Bois de Boulogne, with its curving paths and artificial lakes, took its inspiration from London's Hyde park. Francais trained briefly under Camille Corot, and was associated with the Barbizon school at Honfleur as well as producing book illustrations. He was recruited by Napoléon III's regime to try to persuade Gustave Courbet to cooperate during the 1855 Exposition Universelle, when Courbet staged his rival 'realist pavilion' to house fourteen rejected paintings. Français' work had been admired by the Emperor when he was sketching in a park at Plombières, and the artist sent two watercolours which were added to the cabinet at the Tuileries (Antoine Gros, François-Louis Français, Paris 1902, p. 194-7).