Monet in Algeria

The painter Claude Monet spent his early twenties as a soldier in French North Africa, yet none of his works or writings from this period survive. Jeffrey Meyers pieces together a portrait of the artist as a young man.

Claude Monet, a 20-year-old art student, appeared in the sub-prefect's office in his home town, Le Havre, on March 2nd, 1861 along with 227 eligible young men. They arrived to draw a lottery number for the compulsory army draft; Monet drew a low number, below 74, and was called into service. His father, a prosperous ship's chandler, could have bought his son's discharge for 2,500 francs, but he refused to do so when Claude refused to give up painting. Monet's father had an interest in removing him from the local scene: he did not want his son to find out about his mistress and the existence of an illegitimate half-sister. His father also disliked spending money. Most important, he thought military discipline would improve his son's volatile yet stubborn character and make him more amenable to his father's wishes.

Yet Monet refused to abandon his career as an artist. He thought the picturesque oriental locales painted by his hero Eugène Delacroix were infinitely more appealing than a grocery store in Le Havre or an austere barracks in a boring provincial town. He later recalled:

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Monet in Algeria