Military Men – Absinthe and the ‘Bat d’Af’

The association of the French military with absinthe went back to the North African wars of the 1840’s, when absinthe was issued to French legionnaires fighting in Algeria. While it was administered to the soldiers for its reputed medicinal qualities (it was believed to kill malaria and fend off dysentery by purifying the water it was added to), the troops quickly acquired a taste for absinthe’s pleasantly bitter herbal taste. No doubt its high alcohol level also helped to relieve the boredom of barracks life and provided a much-needed boost to troop morale!

When the soldiers of the Bataillon d’Afrique returned to France, they brought with them their predilection for absinthe and it quickly became all the rage in bars and bistrots all over France.

L’Eclipse 1874.

Absinthe in the military.

Paris Noël 1889-1890.

La Vie Parisienne 1893.

La Vie Parisienne 1893.

Le Sourire 1907.

A striking 1895, 2 sheet poster showing Absinthe Mugnier’s famous desert legionnaire by Lucien Lefèvre, a pupil of Chéret.

Oil on canvas, measuring 55cm x 46cm, by Georges Goursat known as Sem. A pipe smoking General Boulanger is shown sitting on a matchstriker, wearing a striped swimming costume (possibly a reference to him having fled across the Channel to England) and bathing his feet in a glass of Pernod (perhaps a sign of homesickness for France).