What is it?
Rubenisme was the most important artistic movement in France at the end
of the 17th century, reaching a climax in the work of Watteau. In 1671-2
there was a violent argument in the Academy of Painting (known as the Quarrel
of Colour and Design), concerning the relative importance of colour in painting.
The Poussinistes regarded it as a mere decorative adjunct to the formal essentials
of drawing and design, as typified in the works of Raphael, the Carracci, and
the Frenchman Poussin (thus cunningly introducing a patriotic note). The strong
suit of the Colourists was naturalism: painting is an imitation of appearances, and,
they said, colour was the most convincing means of imitation. This theory
depends on Titian as much as Rubens, but the fact of the existence in Paris of
the great Rubens cycle of the Life of Marie de'Medici coupled with the undoubted
naturalism of most Flemish painting led to the Party of Colour becoming
transformed into Rubenistes. In 1672 Lebrun himself had officially settled the
matter once and for all: 'The function of colour is to satisfy the eyes, whereas
drawing satisfies the mind' — that is, he merely repeated the classic theory of
disegno. The critic Roger de Piles published a Life of Rubens
in 1677; in 1699
he was elected an Honorary Member of the Academy, thus marking the final
victory of Rubenisme, and he then republished his earlier Dialogue sur le Coloris
(Ist edn 1673). Thus, by the beginning of the 18th century the way was prepared
for Watteau and also for the new ideas in Rococo.
Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)
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