Realism 1830 – 1970

In its specific sense realism refers to a mid nineteenth century artistic movement characterised by subjects painted from everyday life in a naturalistic manner, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, or implausible, exotic, and supernatural elements.

Gustave Courbet, The stone breaker, 1849

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Though never a coherent group, Realism is recognized as the first modern movement in art, which rejected traditional forms of art, literature, and social organization as outmoded in the wake of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.


Origins

Until the nineteenth century Western art was dominated by the academic theory of History painting and High art (grand manner). Artistic conventions governed style and subject matter, resulting in artworks that often appeared artificial and removed from real life. Then, the development of naturalism began to go hand in hand with increasing emphasis on realism of subject, meaning subjects outside the high art tradition.

Honoré Daumier, The third class carriage, 1862

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The term realism was coined by the French novelist Champfleury in the 1840s and in art was exemplified in the work of his friend the painter Gustav Courbet. In practice realist subject matter meant scenes of peasant and working class life, the life of the city streets, cafes and popular entertainments, and an increasing frankness in the treatment of the body and sexual subjects. The term generally implies a certain grittiness in choice of subject. Such subject matter combined with the new naturalism of treatment caused shock among the predominantly upper and middle class audiences for art.

Realism in Paintings

Édouard Manet, The Old Musician, 1862

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Gustave Courbet was the first artist to self-consciously proclaim and practice the realist aesthetic. After his huge canvas The Studio (1854–55) was rejected by the Exposition Universelle of 1855, the artist displayed it and other works under the label “Realism, G. Courbet” in a specially constructed pavilion. Courbet was strongly opposed to idealization in his art, and he urged other artists to instead make the commonplace and contemporary the focus of their art. He viewed the frank portrayal of scenes from everyday life as a truly democratic art. Such paintings as his Burial at Ornans (1849) and the Stone Breakers (1849), which he had exhibited in the Salon of 1850–51, had already shocked the public and critics by the frank and unadorned factuality with which they depicted humble peasants and labourers. The fact that Courbet did not glorify his peasants but presented them boldly and starkly created a violent reaction in the art world.

Main features of Realism

Jean-François Millet, The winnower, 1848

Though each Barbizon painter had his own style and specific interests, they all emphasized in their works the simple and ordinary rather than the grandiose and monumental aspects of nature. They turned away from melodramatic picturesqueness and painted solid, detailed forms that were the result of close observation. In such works as The Winnower (1848), Millet was one of the first artists to portray peasant labourers with a grandeur and monumentality hitherto reserved for more important persons.

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Realism Legacy

Realism is broadly considered the beginning of modern art. Literally, this is due to its conviction that everyday life and the modern world were suitable subjects for art. Philosophically, Realism embraced the progressive aims of modernism, seeking new truths through the reexamination and overturning of traditional systems of values and beliefs.

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

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Realism was the first explicitly anti-institutional, nonconformist art movement. Realist painters took aim at the social mores and values of the bourgeoisie and monarchy upon who patronized the art market. Though they continued submitting works to the Salons of the official Academy of Art, they were not above mounting independent exhibitions to defiantly show their work.

Following the explosion of newspaper printing and mass media in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, Realism brought in a new conception of the artist as self-publicist. Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, and others purposefully courted controversy and used the media to enhance their celebrity in a manner that continues among artists to this day.

Info source: https://www.britannica.com/art/realism-art                                       https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism_(arts)                                                              https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/r/realism                                                      https://www.theartstory.org/movement/realism/

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