The general state

The general state

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Opening session of the Estates General, May 5, 1789.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The opening ceremony of the States General took place on May 5, 1789 in a large room in the Hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs, avenue de Paris in Versailles. One thousand one hundred and eighteen deputies represented the three orders: clergy, nobility and third estate. The installation of the deputies marked the will not to change the old order.

The king first spoke to warn against any spirit of innovation, then Necker gave a long speech of three hours, read by his assistant, on the state of the finances. The question of the vote by order or by head, fundamental for the holding of this assembly (the nobility and the clergy being in the majority), was not decided.

Image Analysis

Draftsman and engraver, picturesque chronicler of the splendours and customs of the end of the Ancien Régime, Moreau le Jeune represents here, in a document that is gripping truth, the royal pomp at the height of refinement. The immensity of the room, the complexity of the decorations, the richness of the canopy under which Louis XVI throne, all combine to convey the grandeur of the monarchy.

The mass of deputies of the third responds to the mass of spectators, among whom is present almost the entire court.


We must be sensitive in this composition of Moreau le Jeune to the spirit of an artist that Louis XVI, in 1790, will appoint designer of the Menus-Plaisirs: one feels there the same sweetness and the same admiration of court life as in Illumination of the park of Versailles on the occasion of the Dauphin’s wedding, in Assembly of notables chaired by Louis XVI in 1787 or in Feast given at Louveciennes on September 2, 1771.

Although Moreau, friend of David, was won over to the ideas of the Enlightenment, we are far here from the political foreboding of a Comte d'Osmond, father of the famous Countess de Boigne, who was one of the rare gentlemen of the court to not to attend the opening ceremony of the States General. "It's because I don't like funerals, Madame, and no more that of the monarchy than the others," he explained to Madame Adélaïde, daughter of Louis XV, who, praising "the beautiful eye of the room, ”was surprised at his absence.

  • Old regime
  • deputies
  • States General
  • Louis XVI
  • Necker (Jacques)
  • Orders
  • Versailles


Claire CONSTANS, National Museum of the Palace of Versailles. The paintings, 2 vol., Paris, RMN, 1995.

William DOYLE, Origins of the French Revolution, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1988.

Ran HALEVI, "Estates General", in François FURET and Mona OZOUF, Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, Flammarion, 1988, reed. coll. "Champs", 1992.

Hubert METHIVIER, The End of the Old Regime, Paris, PUF, coll. "What do I know? »No 1411, 1996.

COLLECTIVE, The French Revolution and Europe (1789-1799), exhibition catalog, Paris, RMN, 1989.

To cite this article

Robert FOHR and Pascal TORRÈS, "The States General"

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