Pictorial realism

Pictorial realism . Realist art is configured as a movement that tries to objectively capture reality. It extends to all fields of human creation although it was of special importance in literature . In the specific case of the plastic arts , realism achieves its maximum expression in France , almost exactly, in the middle of the 19th century . In the central decades of the 19th century, Romanticism and its idealization of history, of society and especially of nature, whose treatment was a reason for evasion, gave way to a current that is interested in reality.

Realism arises after the French revolution of 1848 . Disenchantment with revolutionary failures causes art to abandon political issues and focus on social issues. Industrialization determined the disappearance of handicrafts and the formation of a large accumulated working population in urban centers. With this, the conditions of economic and social life undergo a profound alteration, which is reflected in ideologies. The artists become aware of the terrible social problems such as the work of children and women, the excessive hours, the unhealthy houses and consider that they must denounce these defects.


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  • 1 Origin
  • 2 Ideology of realistic art
  • 3 Realism and naturalism
  • 4 Realistic artists
    • 1 Zorn Anders
    • 2 Thomas Eakins
    • 3 Emile Friant
    • 4 Aureliano Beruete
    • 5 Ramón Casas
    • 6 Gustave Courbet
      • 6.1 Representative works
    • 7 Jean François Millet
      • 7.1 Representative works
    • 8 Honoré Daumier
      • 8.1 Representative works
    • 5 Sources


Children Playing, Arthur John Elsley

A tiredness of romantic values ​​and the desire, among the most restless artists, to incorporate the most direct and objective experiences in their works was appreciated from previous times. A continuity is established between romanticism and realism, however their ideological and formal approaches will be very different.

A complex relationship is established between realism and academicism , since there is still an evident competition between the two, they influence each other. Thus, although the realistic painters are excluded from the large official exhibitions, the academic painting will show a greater attention to the direct observation of the nature and reality of the moment.

Ideology of realistic art

Christ in the desert, Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi

From an ideological point of view, realism is linked to more or less defined socialist ideas. Although with clear differences between the different authors, in general there is an interest in the situation of the most disadvantaged classes of society that emerged from the Industrial Revolution.

The way this basic principle is materialized varies from Courbet’s objective crudeness to Daumier’s graphic simplification , going through Mollet’s idealistic filter . In any case, they all share the radical nature of the themes: faced with the importance they attach to the subject of romanticism and academicism, realist art understands that there are no banal themes and that, consequently, any question can be the object of pictorial interest.

This approach is of enormous importance at a time when painting is subject to extraordinary rules of official criticism: the themes, attitudes, compositions and even the measurements of the paintings have to meet these rigid criteria. Faced with this situation, the realistic painters defend a painting without argument, a simple capture of reality, in which the fundamental thing is the way in which the image and sound are represented, and not their narrative development.

Realism and naturalism

Subjected to the slavery of work, Agustin Leó Hermitt

When speaking of pictorial realism and naturalism, it can be defined according to its chronology; from this point of view it would be the art that followed romanticism and that occupies the entire 19th and early 20th centuries. They are two styles that are as intimately linked as the effect to its cause, so that they can be considered as one. One of the characterizations of naturalism is to see it as a reaction against romanticism, in the sense that the former rejects the idealization of the real in order to face reality as it presents itself to the sense and the mind.

The most important characterization of realism and its effect, naturalism, is that it looks at reality as an expression of a message, sometimes of a social nature, sometimes of an ontological order, sometimes of an individual order. Underlying naturalism and realism is a philosophy, which is why literature manifests itself most strongly in general, and in essay works in particular.

Waiting to use the cauldrons, Zorn Anders

The philosophy underlying reality is for some the materialism atheist Feurbach to other sociologism of Stuart Mill , or the positivism of Auguste Comte , or Darwinian evolution , or atheism history of Marx and Engels , or Christian neotomismo. This characterization broadens the field of action in such a way that any realistic or naturalistic work can have a religious background, either by default, by its rejection, or by excess, since everything real and natural leads to the search for reality. transcendent that sustains it.

Realism, supposes observation, sometimes even scientific observation, is fascinated by psychological and sociological processes in relation to the inevitability of learning moral lessons that create a reasonable and comfortable society, fascination with the everyday and typical, the reason moderated by feelings, moderation or mixture of contradictory elements in general, “objectivity”, materialism, good / bad taste, plausibility and probability, fascination with definitions, language that expresses without attracting attention. In some measure, realism and naturalism can unknowingly fall into the coldness of an “objective” reality that hides its truth, unless the viewer is able to make sense of it with his observations.

The beggar, Jules Bastien-Lep

If any difference can be established between realism and naturalism, it is that it is an ideological, committed realism, often becoming a social protest, while realism allows the expressed data to speak.

Naturalism, may be based on extremism and improbability, but an extremism in favor of the “scientific” process of observation, prediction and experimentation, fascination with sciences such as biology and geography as centers of truths about the human condition , focused on the struggle between civilization and barbarism, fascination with families or groups, determinism instead of free will, ugly scenes and physical or moral deterioration due to social, environmental or biological forces, fascination with language scientific, such as the doctor, and the language “dark”, graphic and “too realistic”.

In Spain naturalism and realism have characteristics similar to that of the rest of European and American painters with some specific notes, for example it was not completely stripped of romantic tendencies and the result is retrospective realism, that is, the use of realistic techniques but to paint types and events of the past.


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