What is Realism in Art? Definition, Artists, & Examples

Realism art Jean-François Millet, “The Gleaners” (1857)

Realism in art, often known as “naturalism” or “objective realism,” is an artistic approach that seeks to represent reality as accurately and authentically as possible. This style emerged in Europe during the mid-19th century as a reaction against the established norms of bourgeois art at the time, and is considered the beginning of modern art. Realism showcased ordinary people and everyday scenes with thoughtful consideration of light and color. From there, this movement spread around the world, affecting artists in stylistically diverse ways throughout its heyday over the next few decades. Through a closer look at what qualifies a piece for realist classification, we can come one step closer to understanding humanity’s long-standing relationship with objective representation.

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Definition of Realism

Realism has evolved over time to embrace a wide variety of styles, techniques, and subject matter, and it remains a popular and influential art trend today. Realism is an artistic style that focuses on precisely and truly depicting the world as it actually exists. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, more stylized and idealized types of art were fashionable, such as historical and allegorical paintings. Realist artists aspired to depict the world as it actually exists, and they did so by focusing on the regular lives of common people and paying close attention to detail. This style of painting was distinguished by its dedication to realism and rejection of idealization and established norms of art and social organization.

History of Realism

The roots of Realism can be traced back to mid-19th-century France. The style arose as a reaction against the highly stylized art genres of the time, such as Romanticism and Neoclassicism. Instead of presenting the world through a romanticized or idealized perspective, the Realist movement tried to depict the world as it actually is, with a focus on the lives of ordinary people, with sometimes unflinchingly “ugly” portrayals of real life for most of society. The technological and scientific achievements of the time, as well as the political and social shifts in Europe, influenced this new approach to art.

One of the defining aspects of realism was its emphasis on the lives and experiences of average individuals. This was a departure from previous painting styles, which frequently depicted historic or heroic individuals, and instead sought to capture the realities of daily life. This meant that Realist artists frequently opted to depict things that were not normally deemed worthy of aesthetic attention, such as working-class individuals, rural landscapes, and urban life. It was a deliberate effort to make art more approachable and understandable to a broader audience by emphasizing the common man and the everyday life.

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Notable Realist Artists

Realism Art: The Third-Class Carriage by Honoré Daumier

Numerous artists have contributed to the creation and progress of Realism as an art trend throughout the years. Among the most prominent Realist painters are:

Gustave Courbet 

Famous for his contributions to the Realist art movement, Gustave Courbet is a household name. His work focuses on portraying regular people going about their daily lives, highlighting the reality and veracity of their experiences.

Jean-Francois Millet 

Another important Realist painter, Jean-François Millet is known for his realistic depictions of rural life and his painstaking attention to detail. His works capture the beauty and hardships of rural life with striking realism, striking a chord with viewers.

Honoré Daumier 

French caricaturist and painter Honoré Daumier became famous for his biting satire on contemporary political and social issues. He skillfully brought attention to the most important issues of his time through his art, while also providing insightful critiques and reflections on society.

Édouard Manet

In the evolution of art from Realism to Impressionism, Édouard Manet was a crucial figure. His paintings were iconic for their realistic portrayal of modern city life and social events. By expanding the possibilities of artistic representation and questioning accepted norms, Manet paved the way for the Impressionist movement.

Realism Examples

Realism Art: The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet

Realism has been conveyed in a vast array of styles, techniques, and subjects over the years. Among the most prominent examples of Realist art are:

The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet (1849) 

Considered one of the most recognizable examples of Realist art, this artwork depicts two laborers smashing stones on a path.

The Gleaners (1857) is a painting by Jean-François Millet

 This artwork depicts a group of women harvesting wheat from a field and exemplifies Millet’s emphasis on rural life and attention to detail.

The Third-Class Carriage by Honoré Daumier (1875) 

This picture depicts a crowded railway car and exemplifies Daumier’s social commentary and dedication to depicting contemporary life matter-of-factly.

Olympia (1863) by Édouard Manet 

This artwork depicts a naked woman in a reclining position; it was a break from previous, generally idealized images of nudity in art. The idealized scenes shown in the Academic art of Manet’s era were in stark contrast to his Realist paintings, and the emergence of his work caused great controversy over what should be considered “art”. The stark and honest depiction of reality in Manet’s works signaled the beginning of a new age in painting and represented a fundamental departure from the past.

Realism is a significant and current art form in contemporary art, with numerous artists presently addressing the concept of realism in novel and inventive ways. The legacy of Realism continues to influence and inspire artists and art enthusiasts, whether through the employment of photorealistic techniques or the exploration of the link between reality and representation.

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Understanding Realism

Realism in art refers to the faithful and unembellished representation of reality. Realism in art is all about depicting the world as accurately and realistically as possible. From the Barbizon school to post-impressionism, realism has come a long way in providing us with an insight of what the artists and society were thinking at that time. Each style has something unique to offer, from Millet’s classical approach to Degas’ impressionist feel, each creates different emotions in viewers. Understanding of past movements is necessary for navigating a contemporary audience into the ever-evolving realist painting landscape. Realism can be found everywhere; it is only up to us to look critically at our environment through this form of art. To further explore this and other styles, take a visit and explore Sparks Gallery for all kinds of amazing artwork done by contemporary realist painters and other genres alike.

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