Meissonier, largely self-taught, established his reputation in the 1840s as a painter of small-scale genre scenes rendered in meticulous detail. An 1864 history painting, "1814, the Campaign of France" (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), signaled the artist's new interest in epic Napoleonic subjects. Countering that image of Napoleon in defeat, "1807, Friedland," Meissonier's largest and most ambitious painting, evokes one of the emperor's greatest victories. These two paintings were the only realized works in a projected cycle of five episodes in the life of Napoleon.
"1807, Friedland" gained notoriety in 1876 when the American department store magnate Alexander T. Stewart (1803–1876) purchased it from the artist, sight unseen, for an astronomical sum. Judge Henry Hilton acquired the work at Stewart's estate sale and in 1887 bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum.