Durenne was born on the 11th December 1860 and lived the first twenty years of his life in Melun, a southeastern suburb of Paris about 40km from the centre of the capital. After studying at the Lycée Condorcet, Durenne attended the College de Melun. As a result of a brother being lost at sea during a shipwreck, Durenne gave up an ambition to become a sailor so as not to cause further distress for his parents.
Having gained a law degree at the Université de Paris, he became an assistant parliamentary stenographer at Mairie du XVème (town hall of Paris 15th arrondissement), moving on to a position as document reviser and working for his uncle Monsieur de Haynin for two years at a coal company, which supplied heating and lighting to Paris.
In 1882 Durenne had expressed his penchant for the arts in a letter to his parents – also conveying a dislike for business. This was likely a seminal point in his life.