Acting as the opposite of Idealisation, Realism in the visual arts is the accurate and objective depiction of the ordinary, visible world.
As Realists prefer an observation of physical appearance over imagination, subjects are represented in a straightforward manner without embellishment and without the formal rules of artistic practice.
The History of Realism
Realism emerged as a cultural movement in France after the 1848 Revolution.
Strongly opposed to Romantic subjectivism and exaggerated emotionalism, the Realists believed in the ideology of objective reality and aimed to promote truth and accuracy through their art.
This notion based on Positivist thinking prompted further artistic developments. These included the use of realism in Academic art, the emphasis on the optical illusions of light, and the development of photography as a key source.
Shortly after the introduction of photography, the emphasis on creating works that were “objectively real” became stronger and the application of new technologies in art making became a major trend.
Realists saw the practices and ideas of Neoclassicism and Romanticism as artificial, thus they were unanimously rejected. With the lives and activities of everyday people considered worthy subjects, the Realists attempted to portray these people exactly how they saw them.
Often ugly appearances were highlighted, as were problems and customs of the middle and lower classes. In doing so, they became linked to demands for social and political reform and expressed a taste for democracy.
Up until that point, the attitudes, conditions and settings of contemporary society were ignored for stiff, conventional images.
Advocates of the Realist style commonly rejected the strict teachings of the notable Salons, Academies and other institutions.
The Barbizon School & Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Instigating their own approaches to art making, the Barbizon School of landscape painting emerged in France as the closest Realist group. Headed by Camille Corot and Jean-Francois Millet this group of artists attempted to create faithful depictions of nature and had strong interests in visible reality. They were named the “Barbizon School” after the Forest of Fonteblau near the village of Barbizon where they escaped from revolutionary Paris to produce their art.
Similarly, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood formed in England in 1848 as a group of painters, poets and critics committed to rejecting practices of contemporary academic British art.
Long considered to be the first avant-garde movement in art, they faithfully followed the Realist ideals of imitating nature, condemned idealisation, paid close attention to the accuracy of detail, colour and light, and advocated a moral approach to art making.
While landscape painting characterised the first phase of the Realism movement, the second phase was highlighted by the stories, mythology, and nature of the Medieval times.
Noteworthy Realism Artists
Significant artists involved the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood included; Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, John William Waterhouse, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and Arthur Hughes.
Other artists who best epitomise the Realist style include: Marie Rosalie Bonheur, John Singleton Copley, Gustave Courbet, Honore Daumier, Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet.
The Influence of Realism on Other Art Movements
Following its great success, Realism was particularly influential in the development of many significant art movements.
These include The Ash Can School, the American Scene Painters, Surrealism, Hyper-realism and Magic Realism.
Other Art Movements
- Abstract Expressionism
- Academic Art
- Art Deco
- Art Nouveau
- Conceptual Art
- Figurative Art
- Naive Art
- Pop Art
- Surrealism / Surrealist Art