The signing of the Treaty of Versailles

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles

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Title: Signature of the Peace Treaty by the German delegation on June 28, 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors.

Author : ORPEN William (1878 - 1931)

Creation date : 1921

Date shown: June 28, 1919

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage place: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin) website

Contact copyright: © BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown website

Picture reference: 04-507383

Signature of the Peace Treaty by the German delegation on June 28, 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors.

© BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

Publication date: September 2008


The signing of the Treaty of Versailles


Historical context

Making peace in 1919, a challenge

The peace conference opened in Versailles on January 18, 1919. Two months after the armistice, the question remains: how to pacify Europe after such a devastating conflict? Loose, the settlement of hostilities certainly was from the outset, for all the countries that entered the war in 1914 are convinced that they did so for good reasons. These tensions weigh heavily on the drafting of the treaty, and its final content was initialed on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

Image Analysis

The painting by Sir William Orpen, a painter accredited by the English army during the conflict, is somewhat Epinal's image of the event, reproduced many times in textbooks. Its immediate clarity - the German plenipotentiaries Müller and Bell signing death to the soul under the domineering gaze of Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George in front of them - is not without concealing some subtleties, however. Indeed, it seems that, strongly marked by his experience of life in the trenches, Orpen wanted to play down somewhat the splendor of the trio of Allied leaders as they appear. Orpen counterbalances the majesty of the victorious rulers by crushing them under the high ceilings of the Hall of Mirrors, which occupy the upper three-quarters of the painting. Omnipresent, the mirrors have nothing to reflect: the room is empty in front of the signatories. Summoned to fight, the people are not invited to the diplomatic ballet. That the artist, on this point, took the trouble to reproduce the inscription "Le Roy gouverne" at the top center speaks volumes about his questions. In direct continuity, his 1923 painting, To the Unknown British Soldier Killed in France, will be the subject of a heated debate. It initially depicted a coffin wrapped in Union Jack and flanked by two ghost-like soldiers, later erased under pressure from the British authorities. Note: the place chosen by Orpen for this scene was also the castle of Louis XIV ...


An essential milestone of the XXe european century

This Treaty of Versailles is shattered twenty years and two months after its signature, when Britain and France declared war on Hitler’s Germany. The casus belli, Hitler's invasion of Poland, stems from the 1919 text since it established an independent Poland. But "the refusal of the victorious powers to reinstate the losers torpedoed the meager chances of peace" (Eric J. Hobsbawm, Age of extremes, Brussels, Complex, 1999, p. 60), as the wrongs could not, at the end of the Great War, be endorsed by the Germans alone. In reality, the Treaty of Versailles did not satisfy many people as soon as it was signed. Admittedly, Clemenceau is delighted with the attitude of defeat of the German emissaries: “Less superb on the day of the signing, where the mirrors of the Great King only reflected the will-o'-the-wisps of the big round glasses in crowns of administrative skulls, where the The grimace of the face belied the vague gestures of a sullen courtesy. A tragic silence. " (Georges Clemenceau, The greatness and the miseries of a victory, Paris, Plon, 1930, p. 343). However, the hard terms of the treaty, particularly reparations, will only be implemented very fragmentarily. As for the Wilsonian project of League of Nations, it is discredited by the absence of an international armed force, then by the disavowal of the American Senate in March 1920. The creation by the commissions of the peace treaty of new national entities like Yugoslavia , far from pacifying the continent, carries with it the seeds of future conflicts. The Treaty of Versailles thus appears as a false respite in a century of wars.

  • Germany
  • army
  • Clemenceau (Georges)
  • War of 14-18
  • Franco-German special issue
  • Treaty of Versailles
  • League of Nations (League of Nations)


Jacques BAINVILLE, John Maynard KEYNES,The political consequences of peace, The economic consequences of peace, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Tel" (double volume), 2002. Jean-Michel GAILLARD, "Versailles, 1919: the peace of the victors", L’Histoire, 232, May 1999, S. 76-85.Georges-Henri SOUTOU,Gold and blood. The economic war goals of the First World War, Paris, Fayard, 1989.Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.

To cite this article

François BOULOC, "The signing of the Treaty of Versailles"

Video: Versailles, 28 June 1919. Signing of the peace treaty