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The Oath of the Tennis Court

Jacques Louis David French

Not on view

In this cinematic vision of patriotic fervor, David commemorates a foundational event of the French Revolution. On June 20, 1789, representatives of various social classes gathered on a tennis court at Versailles and, in a challenge to the absolute authority of the king, pledged to draft a constitution.

The storm raging outside suggests the chaotic state of the French nation, while the emphatic gestures of the participants read as a refracted echo of David’s 1785 painting The Oath of the Horatii, thus ennobling a contemporary event by recasting it in the language of the classical past. The drawing was intended as a study for a painting to hang in the newly formed National Assembly, to be funded by public subscription, but the fast pace of political change derailed these plans.

The Oath of the Tennis Court, Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels), Pen and brown and black ink, brush and brown wash, heightened with white, over black chalk, with two irregularly shaped fragments of paper affixed to the sheet

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