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Realism in the visual arts

Realism in the visual arts can refer to specific art movements (e.g. Social realism or Russian socialist realism) as well as verisimilitude (photographic realism such as Vermeer).

Related: everyday life - genre painting - modern art - photorealism - realism - representation - visual arts

In modern art: Olympia (1865) - Édouard Manet

Art movements: Gustave Courbet - social realism - Neorealism

In 19th century France “Millet, Daumier and Courbet were politically motivated and set about attacking social order through their art” [Apr 2006]

Contrast: fantastic art surrealism - social realism -


Realists render everyday characters, situations, dilemmas, and objects, all in an "true-to-life" manner. Realists tend to discard theatrical drama, lofty subjects and classical forms of art in favor of commonplace themes.

Realism appears in art as early as 2400 BCE in the city of Lothal in what is now India, and examples can be found throughout the history of art. In the broadest sense, realism in a work of art exists wherever something has been well observed and accurately depicted, even if the work as a whole does not strictly conform to the conditions of realism. For example, the proto-Renaissance painter Giotto brought a new realism to the art of painting by rendering physical space and volume far more convincingly than his Gothic predecessors even though his paintings, like theirs, represented biblical scenes and the lives of the saints.

In the late 16th century, the prevailing mode in European art was mannerism, an artificial art of elongated figures in graceful but unlikely poses. Caravaggio emerged to change the direction of art by depicting flesh-and-blood human beings, painted directly from life with an immediacy never before seen.

A fondness for humble subjects and homely details characterizes much of Dutch art, and Rembrandt is an outstanding realist in his renunciation of the ideal and his embrace of the life around him. In the 19th century a group of French landscape artists known as the Barbizon School emphasized close observation of nature, paving the way for the Impressionism. In England the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood rejected what they saw as the formulaic idealism of the followers of Raphael, which led some of them to an art of intense realism.

Trompe l'oeil (literally, "fool the eye"), a technique which creates the illusion that the objects depicted actually exist, is an extreme example of artistic realism. Examples of this tendency can be found in art from antiquity to the present day. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism_%28arts%29#Visual_Arts [Jun 2006]

Realism in Brueghel, Hogarth, Goya, and Daumier

American art critic Northrop Frye calls the sort of realism displayed in Goya's work "a revolutionary or prophetic realism, of the sort that runs through Brueghel, Hogarth, Goya, and Daumier. This kind of realism is often not realistic in form: it may be presented as fantasy, as in Brueghel's Mad Margaret or Goya's Caprichos. But it tears apart the façade of society and shows us the forces working behind that façade, and is realistic in the sense of sharpening our vision of society as a mode of existence rather than simply an environment."

Shortly After the Marriage (c. 1743) - William Hogarth

In search of realism in the visual arts.

Shortly After the Marriage (c. 1743) - William Hogarth

This is the second canvas in the series of six satirical paintings known as Marriage à-la-mode painted by William Hogarth. The actors in this Classical interior are the son of an impoverished earl, a rich merchant’s daughter and their butler. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_%C3%A0-la-mode_II [Jul 2006]

William Hogarth (November 10, 1697 – October 26, 1764) was a major English painter, engraver, pictorial satirist, and editorial cartoonist who has been credited as a pioneer in western sequential art. His work ranged from excellent realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called “modern moral subjects.” Much of his work, though at times vicious, poked fun at contemporary politics and customs. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William Hogarth [Jul 2006]

In 1743–1745 Hogarth painted the six pictures of Marriage à-la-mode (National Gallery, London), a pointed skewering of upper class 18th century society. This moralistic warning shows the miserable tragedy of an ill-considered marriage for money. This is regarded by many as his finest project, certainly the best example of his serially-planned story cycles. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hogarth#Marriage_.C3.A0-la-mode [Jul 2006]

Hogarth's style has been described as anti-rococo

Hogarth has been described as an artist of the grotesque.

See also: satire - marriage - realism in the visual arts - 1740s - British art

Realism (1971) - Linda Nochlin

Realism (1971) - Linda Nochlin [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Realism was a major movement of mid- to late-19th century art, literature, and architecture, and has left a lasting impact on the culture of the 20th and 21st centuries. Before realism, most painting dealt with either historical or allegorical subjects, but afterwards, almost all art has primarily been concerned with contemporary subjects, and allegory is close to unheard of. As Nochlin shows, Realism is not merely a mimetic recreation of what one sees or photo-realism. The Dutch masters and especially Vermeer had produced paintings of great verisimilitude to real life, but they have little in common with 19th century Realism because of the overall social context. --Robert W. Moore via Amazon.com

Setting Realism in its social and historical context, the author discusses the crucial paradox posed by Realist works of art - notably in the revolutionary paintings of Courbet, the works of Manet, Degas and Monet, of the Pre-Raphaelites and other English, American, German and Italian Realists.

See also: realism - visual arts

The Realist movement in French art

The Realist movement in French art flourished from about 1840 until the late nineteenth century, and sought to convey a truthful and objective vision of contemporary life. Realism emerged in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1848 that overturned the monarchy of Louis-Philippe and developed during the period of the Second Empire under Napoleon III. As French society fought for democratic reform, the Realists democratized art by depicting modern subjects drawn from the everyday lives of the working class. Rejecting the idealized classicism of academic art and the exotic themes of Romanticism, Realism was based on direct observation of the modern world. In keeping with Gustave Courbet's statement in 1861 that "painting is an essentially concrete art and can only consist in the representation of real and existing things," Realists recorded in often gritty detail the present-day existence of humble people, paralleling related trends in the naturalist literature of Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert. The elevation of the working class into the realms of high art and literature coincided with Pierre Proudhon's socialist philosophies and Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, which urged a proletarian uprising.

Courbet (1819–1877) established himself as the leading proponent of Realism by challenging the primacy of history painting, long favored at the official Salons and the École des Beaux-Arts, the state-sponsored art academy. The groundbreaking works that Courbet exhibited at the Paris Salons of 1849 and 1850–51—notably A Burial at Ornans (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) and The Stonebreakers (destroyed)—portrayed ordinary people from the artist's native region on the monumental scale formerly reserved for the elevating themes of history painting. At the time, Courbet's choice of contemporary subject matter and his flouting of artistic convention was interpreted by some as an anti-authoritarian political threat. Proudhon, in fact, read The Stonebreakers as an "irony directed against our industrialized civilization ... which is incapable of freeing man from the heaviest, most difficult, most unpleasant tasks, the eternal lot of the poor." To achieve an honest and straightforward depiction of rural life, Courbet eschewed the idealized academic technique and employed a deliberately simple style, rooted in popular imagery, which seemed crude to many critics of the day. His Young Women from the Village, exhibited at the Salon of 1852, violates conventional rules of scale and perspective and challenges traditional class distinctions by underlining the close connections between the young women (the artist's sisters), who represent the emerging rural middle class, and the poor cowherd who accepts their charity.

When two of Courbet's major works (A Burial at Ornans and The Painter's Studio) were rejected by the jury of the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, he withdrew his eleven accepted submissions and displayed his paintings privately in his Pavillon du Réalisme, not far from the official international exhibition. For the introduction to the catalogue of this independent, one-man show, Courbet wrote a Realist manifesto, echoing the tone of the period's political manifestos, in which he asserts his goal as an artist "to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my epoch according to my own estimation." In his autobiographical The Painter's Studio (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), Courbet is surrounded by groups of his friends, patrons, and even his models, documenting his artistic and political experiences since the Revolution of 1848. --Ross Finocchio via http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rlsm/hd_rlsm.htm [May 2006]

See also: Realism - Gustave Courbet - French art - modern art - 1840s - 1850s - 1860s - 1870s

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