Cover image of the review
Installation view of Atlanta Eke, *The Tennis Piece*, 2019, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne. Courtesy of Gertrude Contemporary. Photo: Christo Crocker

Atlanta Eke, The Tennis Piece

16 Mar 2019
Gertrude Contemporary 8 Feb - 23 Mar 2019

‘Oh my country! We will no longer have to go searching through the history of ancient peoples for worthy subjects on which to practise our brushwork…No, no people’s history offers me anything so great, so sublime as the Tennis Court Oath, which I am to paint.’ So opined the 18th century painter and revolutionary Jacques-Louis David, after securing the commission from the Société des Amis de la Constitution to paint the catalysing political episode.

The Tennis Court Oath is historically designated as precipitating the French Revolution: a gathering of the Third Estate in the Palace of Versailles, forced to convene impromptu in an indoor tennis court after being denied access to the official halls by the obstructionism of King Louis XVI, who declared themselves a National Assembly and collectively swore an oath to assemble as necessary in their pursuit of a new constitution. This audacious act—buoyed by the winds of political change—is retrospectively seen as instrumental to the instalment of the French Republic and the birth of democracy in France. David never completed his painting, but his sketch for the unfinished work, The Tennis Court Oath (1791) translates what we can only imagine as an urgent and clamorous convocation into a tightly choreographed, multi-figure composition redolent of a Neoclassical sublime.

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