The Tennis Court Oath, June 20, 1789. Sketch

David, Jacques-Louis, né en 1748 à Paris, décédé en 1825 à Bruxelles

    • 18th century
      Oil on canvas
      Purchased in 1884

An emblematic work of the revolutionary period, this historical representation represents a key moment in 1789, the “peerless year”. Although the Estates General had been meeting at Versailles ever since being convened on May 5, debate had ground to a halt on the key issue of deliberation by Estate or by individual. Soon, the elected representatives of the Third Estate formed the National Assembly and were joined by most of the clergy and a very active minority of noblemen. Gathered in the tennis court room near the royal palace after being prohibited to hold a session, the deputies of the nation swore a solemn oath to stay together until they had established a constitution. The oath, which was read by Jean-Sylvain Bailly, President of the Assembly, was signed by all representatives except one, who was allowed to follow his personal opinion. None of the actors turns his back and all seem to play a role on the stage of a theater. But here, the theater is history itself.

The painting by David remained unfinished. The Carnavalet painting is probably a reproduction of a wash drawing by the artist, who also made another sketch at Versailles and other preparatory drawings.