Sem (pseudonym for Georges Goursat). Sem au Bois (title stamped in gilt on front cover). N.p. (Paris?) ca. 1908. Signed and dated 29/4/08 in pencil on the last plate; 6 other plates with the artist’s printed insignia. 
A jewel in the crown of Baron Haussmann’s modernized Paris, the Bois de Boulogne opened as a park in 1852. Funded by Napolean III — who’s said to have been taken with London’s Hyde Park during his exile there in the 1830s — the “Boulogne Woods” offered the social elite of Belle Époque Paris an ideal grounds for the public display of their accumulating wealth. In 1908, Georges Goursat, who was known at the time by his moniker “Sem,” caricatured the ensuing parade of bourgeois vanity in a spectacular yet little-known accordion-format panoramic album entitled Sem au Bois.
Nearly 30 feet in length when fully revealed, the work shows a procession of carriages with men in top-hats, women in their finery, and even one horse decked out in high heeled shoes. It is possible (though we cannot confirm it), that the procession is circular and that the final image is meant to connect to the first. And although they’re unfamiliar to us, the figures depicted are clearly recognizable individuals, many of them likely social celebrities in their day.
Readers who’ve seen Gigi may find the images familiar, as the film’s opening credits play out against a montage of Sem’s illustrations for fashionable magazines of the era. Cecil Beaton — hired by producer Vincente Minnelli as general production designer and visual stylist — is reported to have drawn inspiration for many of the film’s costumes and set dressings directly from Sem’s caricatures, among other sources. After the Sem-inspired credits set the tone, Gigi opens with an extended view of the pageantry on display in the Bois de Boulogne (with Maurice Chevalier as your guide), including a parade of horse drawn carriages that bear a striking similarity to the ones in Sem au Bois.
(Sorry for the German-language YouTube link, it’s the only one I could locate with footage of the carriage procession…)
Is it likely that Beaton was aware of Sem au Bois and meant to reference it directly? Quite possibly. What’s more, the seamless panorama format of Sem au Bois almost seems itself a clever nod to the emerging art of cinema, innovated by the Lumière brothers in 1895 and still very much in its infancy in 1908. It may also simply be that the film and the album are mutually resonant because they each celebrate and gently mock the follies and exuberant stylings of fashionable society in turn-of-the-century Paris.
The first 12 panels of the album appear below in stitched scans depicting 3 panels each. Click away for high-res images. And if you happen to be an historian of Belle Epoque Paris (clever you) and recognize anyone among the caricatures, please let us know in the comments field…