Claude Monet: teacher’s pet or naughty step?

It’s back to school time! Let’s take this opportunity to look back at the young Oscar Claude Monet’s school report.

1 April 1851. After going to a private boarding school for his primary education, Oscar Claude Monet started at the Le Havre secondary school. Enrolled as a day pupil, the teenage Claude Monet attended four hours of lessons daily. And even that small amount was too much for him! “I was unruly from birth,” he later explained. “They could never make me stick to the rules, even as a little child. For me, secondary school was like a prison and I could never bring myself to live there, even for four hours a day…” But there was one subject at which the teenager excelled: art. That class was given by Jacques-François Ochard, a fine teacher who studied under David and exhibited at the World’s Fair in 1835 and 1837. However, while the young Oscar complied with the methodical art teachings and produced sketches (boats, landscapes, etc.) in a classical style, he also rebelled in his own style: “I doodled in the margins of my books, I decorated my exercise books’ blue pages with super whimsical embellishments and I depicted the faces or profiles of my teachers in the most irreverent manner by deforming them as much as possible.” Popular with his classmates, those ‘portraits’ quickly earned him fame. He displayed his caricatures, priced at one Napoleon (20 francs), at Gravier Papetier, a framer and colour merchant in Le Havre. The shop window drew crowds of onlookers every Sunday, laughing and clapping. “I was bursting out of my skin with pride,” the young artist would later admit.

Claude Monet (1840-1926).
Le Dramaturge Adolphe Philippe d’Ennery. Vers 1858.
Crayon noir sur papier, 32 × 24 cm.
Legs Michel Monet, 1966. Inv. 5110.3.
©Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris / Photo Christian Baraja

What age did Claude Monet finish his schooling? He confirmed that he left the schoolhouse at around 14 or 15 years old. Daniel Wildenstein, in his book ‘Monet: The Triumph of Impressionism’, believes that he might have continued his schooling until 1857, when he was 17 years old. Even though by his own admission he was not a diligent student, he appears in the Le Havre secondary school’s annals as having “an excellent, very likeable manner with his fellow students.” Like Emile Zola, Sacha Guitry and even Guillaume Apollinaire, Claude Monet never achieved his baccalaureate (school leaver’s qualification). But that did not stop him conquering the world and embracing universality. And today many schools bear his name!

Le Havre, vers 1850