Realism (art movement)

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James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge (1872), Tate Britain, London, England James Abbot McNeill Whistler 006.jpg
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge (1872), Tate Britain, London, England

Realism was an artistic movement that began in France in the 1840s, after the 1848 Revolution. [1] Realists rejected Romanticism, which had dominated French literature and art since the late 18th century. Realism revolted against the exotic subject matter and the exaggerated emotionalism and drama of the Romantic movement. Instead, it sought to portray real and typical contemporary people and situations with truth and accuracy, and not avoiding unpleasant or sordid aspects of life. The movement aimed to focus on unidealized subjects and events that were previously rejected in art work. Realist works depicted people of all classes in situations that arise in ordinary life, and often reflected the changes brought by the Industrial and Commercial Revolutions. Realism was primarily concerned with how things appeared to the eye, rather than containing ideal representations of the world [2] . The popularity of such "realistic" works grew with the introduction of photography—a new visual source that created a desire for people to produce representations which look objectively real.

French Revolution of 1848 End of the reign of King Louis Philippe and start of the Second Republic

The 1848 Revolution in France, sometimes known as the February Revolution, was one of a wave of revolutions in 1848 in Europe. In France the revolutionary events ended the July Monarchy (1830–1848) and led to the creation of the French Second Republic.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.

Industrial Revolution Mid-20th-to-early-21th-century period; First Industrial Revolution evolved into the Second Industrial Revolution in the transition years between 1840 and 1870

The Industrial Revolution, now also known as the First Industrial Revolution, was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the US, in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, the increasing use of steam power and water power, the development of machine tools and the rise of the mechanized factory system. The Industrial Revolution also led to an unprecedented rise in the rate of population growth.


The Realists depicted everyday subjects and situations in contemporary settings, and attempted to depict individuals of all social classes in a similar manner. Gloomy earth toned palettes were used to ignore beauty and idealization that was typically found in art. This movement sparked controversy because it purposefully criticized social values and the upper classes, as well as examining the new values that came along with the industrial revolution. Realism is widely regarded as the beginning of the modern art movement due to the push to incorporate modern life and art together [3] . Classical idealism and Romantic emotionalism and drama were avoided equally, and often sordid or untidy elements of subjects were not smoothed over or omitted. Social realism emphasizes the depiction of the working class, and treating them with the same seriousness as other classes in art, but realism, as the avoidance of artificiality, in the treatment of human relations and emotions was also an aim of Realism. Treatments of subjects in a heroic or sentimental manner were equally rejected. [4]

Realism as an art movement was led by Gustave Courbet in France. It spread across Europe and was influential for the rest of the century and beyond, but as it became adopted into the mainstream of painting it becomes less common and useful as a term to define artistic style. After the arrival of Impressionism and later movements which downgraded the importance of precise illusionistic brushwork, it often came to refer simply to the use of a more traditional and tighter painting style. It has been used for a number of later movements and trends in art, some involving careful illusionistic representation, such as Photorealism, and others the depiction of "realist" subject matter in a social sense, or attempts at both.

Gustave Courbet 19th-century French painter

Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet was a French painter who led the Realism movement in 19th-century French painting. Committed to painting only what he could see, he rejected academic convention and the Romanticism of the previous generation of visual artists. His independence set an example that was important to later artists, such as the Impressionists and the Cubists. Courbet occupies an important place in 19th-century French painting as an innovator and as an artist willing to make bold social statements through his work.

Impressionism 19th-century art movement

Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles. Impressionism originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s.

Photorealism art genre and movement

Photorealism is a genre of art that encompasses painting, drawing and other graphic media, in which an artist studies a photograph and then attempts to reproduce the image as realistically as possible in another medium. Although the term can be used broadly to describe artworks in many different media, it is also used to refer specifically to a group of paintings and painters of the American art movement that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Beginnings in France

Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet , 1854. A Realist painting by Gustave Courbet. Gustave Courbet 010.jpg
Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet , 1854. A Realist painting by Gustave Courbet.

The Realist movement began in the mid-19th century as a reaction to Romanticism and History painting. In favor of depictions of 'real' life, the Realist painters used common laborers, and ordinary people in ordinary surroundings engaged in real activities as subjects for their works. The chief exponents of Realism were Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet, Honoré Daumier, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. [5] [6] [7] Jules Bastien-Lepage is closely associated with the beginning of Naturalism, an artistic style that emerged from the later phase of the Realist movement and heralded the arrival of Impressionism. [8]

History painting genre in painting defined by historical matter

History painting is a genre in painting defined by its subject matter rather than artistic style. History paintings usually depict a moment in a narrative story, rather than a specific and static subject, as in a portrait. The term is derived from the wider senses of the word historia in Latin and Italian, meaning "story" or "narrative", and essentially means "story painting". Most history paintings are not of scenes from history, especially paintings from before about 1850.

Jean-François Millet 19th-century French painter

Jean-François Millet was a French painter and one of the founders of the Barbizon school in rural France. Millet is noted for his scenes of peasant farmers; he can be categorized as part of the Realism art movement.

Honoré Daumier French printmaker, caricaturist, painter, and sculptor

Honoré-Victorin Daumier was a French printmaker, caricaturist, painter, and sculptor, whose many works offer commentary on social and political life in France in the 19th century.

Realists used unprettified detail depicting the existence of ordinary contemporary life, coinciding in the contemporaneous naturalist literature of Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert. [9]

Émile Zola French writer

Émile Édouard Charles Antoine Zola was a French novelist, playwright, journalist, the best-known practitioner of the literary school of naturalism, and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism. He was a major figure in the political liberalization of France and in the exoneration of the falsely accused and convicted army officer Alfred Dreyfus, which is encapsulated in the renowned newspaper headline J'Accuse…! Zola was nominated for the first and second Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901 and 1902.

Honoré de Balzac French writer

Honoré de Balzac was a French novelist and playwright. The novel sequence La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of post-Napoleonic French life, is generally viewed as his magnum opus.

Gustave Flaubert French writer

Gustave Flaubert was a French novelist. Highly influential, he has been considered the leading exponent of literary realism in his country. He is known especially for his debut novel Madame Bovary (1857), his Correspondence, and his scrupulous devotion to his style and aesthetics. The celebrated short story writer Guy de Maupassant was a protégé of Flaubert.

Courbet was the leading proponent of Realism and he challenged the popular history painting that was favored at the state-sponsored art academy. His groundbreaking paintings A Burial at Ornans and The Stonebreakers depicted ordinary people from his native region. Both paintings were done on huge canvases that would typically be used for history paintings. [9] Although Courbet's early works emulated the sophisticated manner of Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Titian, after 1848 he adopted a boldly inelegant style inspired by popular prints, shop signs, and other work of folk artisans. [10] In The Stonebreakers, his first painting to create a controversy, Courbet eschewed the pastoral tradition of representing human subjects in harmony with nature. Rather, he depicted two men juxtaposed against a charmless, stony roadside. The concealment of their faces emphasizes the dehumanizing nature of their monotonous, repetitive labor. [10]

Rembrandt 17th-century Dutch painter and printmaker

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch draughtsman, painter and printmaker. An innovative and prolific master in three media, he is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history. Unlike most Dutch masters of the 17th century, Rembrandt's works depict a wide range of style and subject matter, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies. His contributions to art came in a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age, when Dutch art, although in many ways antithetical to the Baroque style that dominated Europe, was extremely prolific and innovative, and gave rise to important new genres. Like many artists of the Dutch Golden Age, such as Jan Vermeer of Delft, Rembrandt was also an avid art collector and dealer.

Titian 16th-century Italian painter

Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio, known in English as Titian, was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near Belluno, then in the Republic of Venice). During his lifetime he was often called da Cadore, taken from the place of his birth.

Popular print

Popular prints is a term for printed images of generally low artistic quality which were sold cheaply in Europe and later the New World from the 15th to 18th centuries, often with text as well as images. They were some of the earliest examples of mass media. After about 1800, the types and quantity of images greatly increased, but other terms are usually used to categorise them.

Beyond France

Ilya Repin, Barge Haulers on the Volga , 1870-73 Ilia Efimovich Repin (1844-1930) - Volga Boatmen (1870-1873).jpg
Ilya Repin, Barge Haulers on the Volga , 1870–73

The French Realist movement had stylistic and ideological equivalents in all other Western countries, developing somewhat later. The Realist movement in France was characterized by a spirit of rebellion against powerful official support for history painting. In countries where institutional support of history painting was less dominant, the transition from existing traditions of genre painting to Realism presented no such schism. [10] An important Realist movement beyond France was the Peredvizhniki or Wanderers group in Russia who formed in the 1860s and organized exhibitions from 1871 included many realists such as genre artist Vasily Perov, landscape artists Ivan Shishkin, Alexei Savrasov, and Arkhip Kuindzhi, portraitist Ivan Kramskoy, war artist Vasily Vereshchagin, historical artist Vasily Surikov and, especially, Ilya Repin, who is considered by many to be the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century.

Courbet's influence was felt most strongly in Germany, where prominent realists included Adolph Menzel, Wilhelm Leibl, Wilhelm Trübner, and Max Liebermann. Leibl and several other young German painters met Courbet in 1869 when he visited Munich to exhibit his works and demonstrate his manner of painting from nature. [12] In Italy the artists of the Macchiaioli group painted Realist scenes of rural and urban life. The Hague School were Realists in the Netherlands whose style and subject matter strongly influenced the early works of Vincent van Gogh. [10] In Britain artists such as the American James Abbot McNeill Whistler, as well as English artists Ford Madox Brown, Hubert von Herkomer and Luke Fildes had great success with realist paintings dealing with social issues and depictions of the "real" world.

In the United States, Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins were important Realists and forerunners of the Ashcan School, an early-20th-century art movement largely based in New York City. The Ashcan School included such artists as George Bellows and Robert Henri, and helped to define American realism in its tendency to depict the daily life of poorer members of society.

Later on in America, the term realism took on various new definitions and adaptations once the movement hit the U.S. Surrealism and magical realism developed out of the French realist movement in the 1930's, and in the 1950's new realism developed. This sub-movement considered art to exist as a thing in itself opposed to representations of the real world. In modern day America, realism art is generally regarded as anything that does not fall into abstract art, therefore including mostly art that depicts realities [13] .

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Musée dOrsay Art museum, Design/Textile Museum, Historic site in Rue de Lille Paris, France

The Musée d'Orsay is a museum in Paris, France, on the Left Bank of the Seine. It is housed in the former Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Many of these works were held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume prior to the museum's opening in 1986. It is one of the largest art museums in Europe. Musée d'Orsay had 3.177 million visitors in 2017.

Genre art art genre that depicts scenes from everyday life

Genre art is the pictorial representation in any of various media of scenes or events from everyday life, such as markets, domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, and street scenes. Such representations may be realistic, imagined, or romanticized by the artist. Some variations of the term genre art specify the medium or type of visual work, as in genre painting, genre prints, genre photographs, and so on.

Social realism international art movement flourishing in the interwar period; reacts to the hardships suffered by people after the Great Crash; involves realist portrayals of anonymous workers or celebrities as heroic symbols of strength in the face of adversity

Social realism is the term used for work produced by painters, printmakers, photographers, writers and filmmakers that aims to draw attention to the real socio-political conditions of the working class as a means to critique of the power structures behind these conditions. While the movement's characteristics vary from nation to nation, it almost always utilizes a form of descriptive or critical realism. Taking its roots from European Realism, Social Realism aims to reveal tensions between an oppressive, hegemonic force, and its victims.

Barbizon school art movement towards Realism

The Barbizon school of painters were part of an art movement towards Realism in art, which arose in the context of the dominant Romantic Movement of the time. The Barbizon school was active roughly from 1830 through 1870. It takes its name from the village of Barbizon, France, near the Forest of Fontainebleau, where many of the artists gathered. Some of the most prominent features of this school are its tonal qualities, color, loose brushwork, and softness of form.

Academic art style of painting and sculpture produced under the influence of European academies of art

Academic art, or academicism or academism, is a style of painting, sculpture, and architecture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Specifically, academic art is the art and artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, which was practiced under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, and the art that followed these two movements in the attempt to synthesize both of their styles, and which is best reflected by the paintings of William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Thomas Couture, and Hans Makart. In this context it is often called "academism", "academicism", "art pompier" (pejoratively), and "eclecticism", and sometimes linked with "historicism" and "syncretism".

Wilhelm Leibl German artist

Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl was a German realist painter of portraits and scenes of peasant life.

Wilhelm Trübner German artist

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<i>The Painters Studio</i> painting by Gustave Courbet

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Genre painting paintings of scenes or events from everyday life

Genre painting, also called petit genre, depicts aspects of everyday life by portraying ordinary people engaged in common activities. One common definition of a genre scene is that it shows figures to whom no identity can be attached either individually or collectively—thus distinguishing petit genre from history paintings and portraits. A work would often be considered as a genre work even if it could be shown that the artist had used a known person—a member of his family, say—as a model. In this case it would depend on whether the work was likely to have been intended by the artist to be perceived as a portrait—sometimes a subjective question. The depictions can be realistic, imagined, or romanticized by the artist. Because of their familiar and frequently sentimental subject matter, genre paintings have often proven popular with the bourgeoisie, or middle class.

Julien Vallou de Villeneuve French photographer

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Ornans Commune in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, France

Ornans is a commune in the Doubs department in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in eastern France. On January 1, 2016, the former commune Bonnevaux-le-Prieuré was merged into Ornans.

Realism (arts) artistic style of representing subjects realistically

Realism, sometimes called naturalism, in the arts is generally the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, or implausible, exotic, and supernatural elements. Realism has been prevalent in the arts at many periods, and can be in large part a matter of technique and training, and the avoidance of stylization.

<i>A Burial At Ornans</i> painting by Gustave Courbet

A Burial At Ornans is a painting of 1849–50 by Gustave Courbet, and one of the major turning points of 19th-century French art. The painting records the funeral in September 1848 of his great-uncle in the painter's birthplace, the small town of Ornans. It treats an ordinary provincial funeral with unflattering realism, and on the giant scale traditionally reserved for the heroic or religious scenes of history painting. Its exhibition at the 1850–51 Paris Salon created an "explosive reaction" and brought Courbet instant fame. It is currently displayed at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France.

<i>The Stone Breakers</i> painting by Gustave Courbet

The Stone Breakers was an 1849 painting by the French painter Gustave Courbet. It was a work of social realism, depicting two peasants, a young man and an old man, breaking rocks.

<i>Le Suicidé</i> painting by Édouard Manet

Le Suicidé is a small oil painting by Édouard Manet, completed between 1877 and 1881. The painting has been little studied within Manet's oeuvre, as if art historians have had difficulty finding a place for the work within the development of Manet's art.

<i>Le ruisseau noir</i> painting by Gustave Courbet

Le ruisseau noir is an oil-on-canvas landscape painted by French artist, Gustave Courbet, in 1865. It is currently held and exhibited at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

Gustave Léonard de Jonghe Flemish/Belgian painter

Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, Gustave Léonard De Jonghe or Gustave de Jonghe was a Belgian painter known for his glamorous society portraits and genre scenes. After training in Brussels, he started out as a painter of historical and religious subjects in a Realist style. After moving to Paris where he spent most of his active career, he became successful with his scenes of glamorous women in richly decorated interiors.

Charles de Groux Belgian painter

Charles de Groux or Charles Degroux was a French painter, engraver, lithographer and illustrator. As he moved to Belgium at a young age and his whole career took place in Belgium he is usually referred to as a Belgian artist. His depictions of scenes from the life of the disadvantaged and lower-class people of his time mark him as the first Belgian social realist painter. These works made him the precursor of Belgian Realist artists such as Constantin Meunier and Eugène Laermans.

<i>Young Ladies of the Village</i> painting by Gustave Courbet

Young Ladies of the Village or The Village Maids is an 1852 oil on canvas painting by Gustave Courbet, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is signed bottom left "G. Courbet".


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