DAVID, Jacques-Louis
(b. 1748, Paris, d. 1825, Bruxelles)

The Oath in the Tennis Court

Pencil, pen and ink and oil on canvas, 358 x 648 cm
Musée National du Château, Versailles

On June 20, 1789 more than 500 deputies of the third estate took the oath of allegiance in the tennis court in Paris. It was apparent that only the revolutionary painter David could be commissioned to depict this event.

David planned to produce a painting more than six metres long sublimating the historic oath and preserving it for posterity. He failed: the scrupulously detailed representations of the individual figures would not resolve into a unified composition. The time in which David was working was not ripe for the transmutation of a very profane present into a convincing history painting, and the work remained unfinished.