This watercolour by French artist Jean-Pierre Houël depicts the fall of the Bastille in Paris on the morning of 14 July 1789. Though containing only seven prisoners at the time, the building was a highly visible symbol of French absolutism and its fall embodied the wider attacks that took place on the French state itself.
That summer a National Assembly formed of commoners and partisans was drawn together to debate a new constitution. Popular passions were soon raised following the dismissal of the Finance Minister Jacques Necker, who was widely believed to be a defender of the people’s rights. Fearing a loyalist counter-insurgency by the army, gangs of Parisians lay siege to the Bastille in expectation of liberating the arms that were known to be held there. The prison was eventually forced open by the popular militia, though in the process many partisans were killed. Several thousand pounds of gunpowder were seized and the prison itself was later torn down. The fall of the Bastille was used thereafter as a symbol of the potency of the French revolutionary movement, which spread like wild fire throughout the rest of the country.