A model of Republican Instruction

A model of Republican Instruction

In class, the work of the little ones.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: February 2009

Historical context

The beginnings of the school of IIIe Republic

Table In class, the work of the little ones was created by Jean Geoffroy in 1889. As the school, its teachers and pupils gradually became familiar to the greatest number, the end of the 1880s was marked by a growing interest in the issue of childhood: emergence childcare; constitution of children's medicine; debates around instruction and education; development of the treatment of this theme in the different arts.

Image Analysis

In the orderly space of the classroom, the "little ones" diligent, serious and concentrated

The canvas is signed by Jean Geoffroy (1853-1924), who became famous for his paintings of children: infants, common kids and schoolchildren. In 1893, the Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts commissioned him to five scenes from school life, making him one of the official painters of the III school.e Republic. The table can also be found at the Ministry of National Education. With startling realism, so much so that one wonders at first if this is not a photograph, he paints here a scene of class work. Four rows of pupils, sometimes cut off (the first and the last in particular), structure and fill an enclosed space (the door on the right, source of light, remains closed), constituting vanishing lines which converge towards a syllabary attached to a brown and green wall. Within this geometrically constructed and framed, ordered and coherent space, where everything is organized from work and its distribution (work on slate for the back row, on paper for the others), everything is however not uniform. Indeed, as if to play on his mastery, Geoffroy broadly declines here the expressions, gestures and postures of children: each of them is carefully characterized, and none is the same as the others. It also allows him to show several utensils specific to classroom work: slates, rulers, pencils, books and notebooks punctuate the representation, which is also enriched by the diversity of attitudes. In the foreground stands out a standing student, who returns to sit down. He faces us, but does not look at us, absorbed as he is in his reading: the enclosed space in which he evolves, entirely devoted to study, is that of application and concentration, and distraction. there is no place there. In the background, the seated teacher also exceeds the other heads. With the child standing, she draws a diagonal that regularly cuts the center of the scene, structuring the scene even more. She seems dedicated, attentive and even benevolent, leaning over the work of a student she has brought to her, perhaps even on her knees.


A model of republican education

A fairly well-known painter at the time, Geoffroy celebrates here the School of the Republic, its progress and the beneficial effects of the education it provides. Like many of his works, this canvas is aimed at a wide audience, including those who, many in 1889, did not frequent it. The realism of the line allows the precision and objectivity made necessary by this information function. Showing the reserved, stable and reassuring space of the class, as well as well-treated, wise and fulfilled students, this painting is intended for parents in France, all of whose children must be in a classroom such as this one. . Study is preferable to dropping out of school and "salaried" work. The "maternal" side of the teacher can even reassure mothers of still young children. The classroom is an orderly, coherent space, where everyone is occupied with seriousness and application to their work. It constitutes a protective environment (closed and isolated from the outside), organized and quiet: a sanctuary dedicated to instruction, with its own utensils and signs. The school order has transformed "little ones" into "little pupils", immersed in study under the benevolent - but very real - authority of the teacher. In this place, republican equality reigns: the smocks level the differences of social origin, each child has the same space, all benefit from the same teaching, the methods (syllabary) and effectiveness of which are recalled here - despite their young age, the "little ones" can already read (several of them are represented in this way) and write. The canvas thus indirectly refers to republican meritocracy: with such discipline (theirs and that of the institution), students, even the most modest, have every chance of rising in society.

  • school
  • education
  • childhood
  • Third Republic
  • Ferry (Jules)
  • Guizot (Francois)


Jean-Pierre AZEMA and Michel WINOCK, The Third Republic, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1970.Christiane HUBERT, A painter from childhood to the beginning of the Third Republic: Jean Geoffroy in Carrefours de l'Education, CAIRN, 2006 Jean-Noël LUC and Gilbert NICOLAS, School time, from kindergarten to high school, 1880-1960, Paris, editions of the oak-hatchet book, 2006. François MAYEUR, History of teaching and education volume III, 1789-1930, Paris, Tempus, 2004.Mona OZOUF, The School, the Church and the Republic 1871-1914, Paris, Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1982.

To cite this article

Alban SUMPF, "A model of Republican Instruction"

Video: Invest in Ed: Republican debate for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction