Naturalism in art

Naturalism in Art. Artistic style that emerged in the second half of the 19th century . In the history of painting , the bibliography calls different pictorial movements naturalism. Applied to aesthetic or art theory principles , the term “naturalism” is very often used interchangeably with the term ” realism “.


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  • 1 Naturalism
    • 1 The novelist of Naturalism
  • 2 Definition
    • 1 Origin
    • 2 Basic characteristics
    • 3 Definitions
    • 4 In the arts
    • 5 Realistic novel
    • 6 Themes
    • 7 Characters
    • 8 In Philosophy
  • 3 Magic realism
  • 4 Historical-social context
  • 5 Authors and representative works
    • 1 Naturalistic artists
  • 6 Sources


Naturalism says that the existence of the human being is determined by natural forces, that humanity cannot control. It is based on the philosophy of determinism. This philosophy says that man is controlled by his instincts, his passions and by his social and economic environment. The objective of Naturalism is to reproduce reality with complete impartiality. It differs from Realism in that it incorporates an amoral attitude in the objective representation of life. Naturalistic writers consider that instinct, emotion, or social or economic conditions govern human behavior, rejecting free choice and adopting Darwin’s biological and Marx’s economic determinism.

In Naturalism the dependence of the human being on environmental conditions stands out and denounces the concrete limits of his ethical personality. Traditional aesthetic principles are denied in order to propose a revolutionary comparison between the “beautiful” and the “ugly”. It vindicates what the great aristocratic and bourgeois literature had rejected for centuries.

This novel is considered the representative of the lower classes, the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In the naturalist novel, the most varied characters appear, from alcoholics, psychopaths, beings who obey their most primary impulses, without realizing it, although these reactions will be different depending on whether they belong to the bourgeoisie, aristocracy, the lower classes, etc.

The narrative techniques used in naturalistic novels are very similar to those that were put into practice in Realism, although it is much more descriptive and thorough, an example of this thoroughness is Zola, who was waiting at the exit of a factory, to take notes , which he later used to describe the departure of the workers in one of his novels. The language used is especially inclined towards slang and regional or popular speech.

The novelist of Naturalism

The novelist tries to interpret life by describing the social environment and discovering the laws that govern human behavior. Naturalism arises in Paris ; Zola was the initiator of the Naturalist movement, when deciding to break with romanticism , he created this literary movement; being considered the master of this movement together with Gustave Flaubert . In their most important works they would describe in a crude and realistic way the social context of Paris, the starting point of the movement


Naturalism is a philosophical system that highlights nature as the first principle of reality. The naturalistic current maintains that nature is formed by the totality of the existing physical realities and, therefore, it is the only and absolute principle of the real. For philosophical naturalism, everything real is natural and vice versa. There is no other reality outside of nature. Naturalism also denies the nature-spirit duality, since it considers it as a special form and reducible to the former.

Beyond philosophy , naturalism is an artistic and aesthetic movement that is responsible for reproducing the productions of nature. It had particular importance in the literature of the 19th century , from the monitoring of the methods of experimental science. The French journalist and writer Émile Zola ( 1840 – 1902 ) is considered the greatest exponent and theoretician of naturalism.

According to the Dictionary of the Spanish language, naturalism is: m. Philosophical doctrine that considers nature and all its elements the only existing reality. Literary movement that arose in France in the second half of the 19th century and that, starting from realism, tried to reproduce reality objectively, especially the most unpleasant aspects. Artistic trend that represents reality away from idealism and symbolism. Definition of Naturalism in dictionaries and glossaries in Humanities

Dictionary of Literary Current History of the second half of the 19th century that emerged in France and aims to describe nature with the utmost of objectivity. Its most prominent representatives are Zola ( Paris , 1840-1902), Flaubert (Rouen, 1821-1880) and in Spain Emilia Pardo Bazán (La Coruña 1852-1921).


Naturalism is a theory according to which literature must be based on an objective and familiar representation of the human being . It arises as a derivation of Realism . Naturalism, in a way, is not only a literary trend, but is a way of understanding the human being and understanding their customs.

Naturalistic writers often describe the lowest and most sordid environments in order to expose the shortcomings of society, representing their characters in extreme situations of poverty and marginalization. To see how human beings react, they use the description of these environments in certain, usually hostile, environments. It first emerged in the works of the French writers Emile Zola, Edmond Huot de Goncourt and his brother Jules Huot de Goncourt .

Zola, with his essay, The Experimental Novel ( 1880 ), exposed his theory of Literary Naturalism. It was between 1880 – 1882 when Spanish culture came into contact with Naturalism. Probably, because Spain being a strictly Catholic country did not receive anticlerical movements well, so it did not have the same reception as in France . Despite this, it influenced literature quite a bit. Some critics believe that in reality Naturalism in Spain, more than a literary trend, was reflected in specific works and periods of writers, such as; Benito Pérez Galdós , with La desheredada ( 1881), (it could be said that this was the first naturalistic novel), Leopoldo Alas “Clarín”, in La Regenta ( 1884 ) and Armando Palacio Valdés, El señorito Octavio ( 1881 ).

Emilia Pardo Bazán was, surely, the only writer who openly defended naturalism in her essay The Palpitating Question ( 1883 ). His novels Los pazos de Ulloa ( 1886 ) and El cisne de Vilamorta ( 1885 ), among others, are considered naturalists.

Basic characteristics

  • Elimination of all subjective aspects, fantastic events or feelings that stray from the real.
  • Rigorous analysis of reality. The artist offers us a rigorous portrait of what he observes.
  • The problems of human existence make up the fundamental theme of the realistic novel; This is the consequence of the extreme interest in the description of the characters’ character, temperament and behavior.
  • A type of novel arises in which the motivations of the characters and customs are thoroughly analyzed.
  • The novelist denounces the defects and ills that affect society and offers the reader solutions to stop them. Each author, according to his ideas, shows what for him is an evil of society.


  • Naturalistis the name by which researchers who have studied natural science or natural history since the 17th century were known .
  • Naturalismis the artistic style that emerged in the second half of the 19th century , as opposed to romanticism , from three basic notions: nature , naturalness and natural sciences . These concepts produce a type of scientific conception of the world and art , which achieves its maximum expression in literature . It is an artistic and aesthetic movement with particular importance in literature , it is in charge of reproducing reality with perfect objectivity in all its aspects. , both in the most sublime and the most vulgar, and whose maximum representative and promoter was Emile Zola. Naturalism aimed to explain the behaviors of the human being.

The word realism forms a family with the words “real” and “reality” (v.) And, like these, comes from the Latin res (thing). Attitudes are designated with it, in different planes of human life (v. II-VIl).

In the arts

Naturalism in art refers to the representation of realistic objects in a natural environment. Naturalistic is art that pays attention to very precise and appropriate details, and that portrays things as they are. It is the aesthetic system that tries to constitute itself as a faithful imitation of nature. It can be spoken of pictorial realism (which tries to capture reality in the paintings) or literary realism (whose texts are intended to provide a testimony about the time).

The 19th century realistic movement defended naturalism in reaction to the stylized and idealized representations of Romanticism , but many painters have adopted a similar approach over the centuries. Realism is a cultural movement that occurred mainly during the second half of the 19th century throughout Europe . This new way of seeing things begins around 1850 in France , with the publication of the magazine Realisme that defines the most characteristic features of this movement.

The naturalism began early in the Renaissance , and was further developed during the Renaissance, as with the Florentine School. As in literature , a distinction is made between realism and naturalism, in the field of painting, to characterize the work of some painters who presented some differences from the realists, such as the preference for peasant-worker themes, rather than historical themes. .

These naturalist artists often paint large-format canvases in which the main figure is the human figure, rather than the landscape. An important part of the naturalistic movement lies in its Darwinian perspective on life and its belief in the futility of human efforts against the forces of nature .

Le Meeting , by Marie Bashkirtseff , (1884) (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

The plastic artists of this movement, assuming realistic tendencies, reflect daily reality with particular authenticity. The central interest lies in the human , and above all, in his most animal aspect ; the characters are studied in the overflow of their instincts and passions.

The priority that natural sciences acquire in this movement translates into a true contemplative cult of nature : rivers , clouds , mountains , are the skin of the world, which “is there”, according to naturalists, monitoring the behavior of their children humans.

Realistic novel

During the second half of the 19th century a journalistic prose was developed, the so-called workers’ press , which tells of the social tensions of the time. Later scientific and humanistic prose flourishes, but the true splendor of this genre comes from the novel. In the novel it was possible to give a complete vision of society in a certain historical time: the characters, the environments, the problems, forming a plausible and everyday world. The novelist becomes the spokesperson for the collective conscience, achieving a good connection between the novelist and society.


They are mainly derived from the bourgeois mentality: power, money, social influence or political issues of the moment.


They reflect the changes and social tensions, proletarians, beggars, politicians and the middle class appear.

In Philosophy

For modern philosophy , realism is a doctrine that holds that objects perceived by the senses have an existence independent of the perceived self.

Magical realism

Magical realism, on the other hand, is a literary movement that emerged in Latin America in the mid- 20th century , characterized by the introduction of fantastic elements in the midst of a realistic narrative. Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez is one of the main exponents of magical realism.

Historical-social context

Towards the central decades of the 19th century , Romanticism gave way to Realism. Various phenomena contributed to the change, and the weight and terrible consequences of the Industrial Revolution hovered in consciences :

  • Women’s and children’s work.
  • Excessive hours.
  • Difficult living conditions.
  • Unhealthy housing.
  • The revolutionary failures of 1848are felt.
  • All hints of idealismare abolished .
  • The social theme abounds.
  • There is a tendency to represent man in his daily chores.
  • Fatigue becomes the main theme.

All these features are reflected in painting, literature such as that of Dickens or Zola. A marked philosophical positivism contributes to all this, considering observation and experimentation as unique sources of knowledge.

Authors and representative works

Naturalism arises from the French Emile Zola. Zola says that the naturalist writer must not only observe reality, but experiment and that it is an impersonal novel. To develop these ideas Zola wrote a cycle of 20 novels, between 1871 and 1893 , under the title of Les Rougon-Macquart (1871-1893) Natural and social history of a family, under the Second Empire; Here Zola tries to capture all aspects of life and human behavior.

In this cycle, various social settings of popular Paris (La tavern, The womb of Paris), of provincial life (The conquest of Plassans), of the mine (Germinal), of the peasantry (The peasant) are represented in detail and even crudely. disaster) etc.

Zola’s ideas are disseminated in Spain by Pardo Bazán in La palpitante question, which defends the French writer, although he is against some of his claims: he does not believe in determinism and thinks that passion or feeling are not governed by the same laws. According to the writer W. Pattison, a classification can be made among naturalist authors, they can be classified generationally:

– The elderly: Alarcón, Pereda, Valera and Galdós – The young: Pardo Bazán, Clarín, Palacio Valdés and Blasco Ibáñez.

Although it affirms that ideologically speaking Galdós and Palacio Valdés should be exchanged in this classification. The generational characteristics used by Pattison for this classification are:

They have the same class consciousness; Similar ways of thinking, seeing, understanding, reasoning … From different points of view, everyone believes in progress and education. We could distinguish between freethinkers and Catholics. They are fundamentally optimistic in their beginnings and, progressively, more pessimistic. They talk about Spanish society and its internal problems. Formally, the Narrator interferes in the action, comments, moralizes, suggests to the reader what he should think about the facts and characters.

In conclusion, it can be said that in Spain Realism was a very important literary movement and that some of the realistic writers were influenced by Naturalism, but the latter did not have the influence in Spain that it had in France.

The limits between Naturalism and Realism are difficult to define, especially as far as authors are concerned, this is verified because depending on the source of information that is consulted, sometimes the authors are included in one movement and other times in another, that is for the most part, because the writers of this time participated in both movements, or wrote works using and extracting resources from the two tendencies.


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