He was born at Plombières-les-Bains (Vosges), and, on attaining the age of fifteen, was placed as an office-boy with a bookseller.
After a few years of hard struggle, during which he made a precarious living by drawing on stone and designing woodcut vignettes for book illustration, he studied painting under Gigoux, and subsequently under Corot, whose influence remained decisive upon Français's style of landscape painting.
Landscape with Daphnis and Chloe
He generally found his subjects in the neighbourhood of Paris, and though he never rivalled his master in lightness of touch and in the lyric poetry which is the principal charm of Corot's work, he is still counted among the leading landscape painters of his country and period.
He exhibited first at the Paris Salon in 1837 and was elected to the Academie des Beaux-Arts in 1890. Comparatively few of his pictures are to be found in public galleries, but his painting of "An Italian Sunset" is at the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. Other works of importance are "Daphnis et Chloë" (1872), "Bas Meudon" (1861), "Orphée" (1863), "Le Bois sacré" (1864), "Le Lac de Némi" (1868)