Keeping It Real

Realism as an art movement had nothing to do with the point-and-shoot realism that is being put forth from the late 20th century Realist Movement.  The realism of revolutionary France was more about the people that the art. The major painters of Realism in its original form were:

Gustave Courbet,

Jean-François Millet,

Honoré Daumier, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Jules Bastien-Lepage is closely associated with the beginning of Naturalism, an artistic style that emerged from the later phase of the Realist movement and heralded the arrival of Impressionism.

Reposted from ‘The Art Story’ Synopsis

Though never a coherent group, Realism is recognized as the first modern movement in art, which rejected traditional forms of art, literature, and social organization as outmoded in the wake of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in France in the 1840s, Realism revolutionized painting, expanding conceptions of what constituted art. Working in a chaotic era marked by revolution and widespread social change, Realist painters replaced the idealistic images and literary conceits of traditional art with real-life events, giving the margins of society similar weight to grand history paintings and allegories. Their choice to bring everyday life into their canvases was an early manifestation of the avant-garde desire to merge art and life, and their rejection of pictorial techniques, like perspective, prefigured the many 20th-century definitions and redefinitions of modernism.

Key Ideas

Realism is broadly considered the beginning of modern art. Literally, this is due to its conviction that everyday life and the modern world were suitable subjects for art. Philosophically, Realism embraced the progressive aims of modernism, seeking new truths through the reexamination and overturning of traditional systems of values and beliefs.

Realism concerned itself with how life was structured socially, economically, politically, and culturally in the mid-19th century. This led to unflinching, sometimes “ugly” portrayals of life’s unpleasant moments and the use of dark, earthy palettes that confronted high art’s ultimate ideals of beauty.

Realism was the first explicitly anti-institutional, nonconformist art movement. Realist painters took aim at the social mores and values of the bourgeoisie and monarchy upon who patronized the art market. Though they continued submitting works to the Salons of the official Academy of Art, they were not above mounting independent exhibitions to defiantly show their work.

Following the explosion of newspaper printing and mass media in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, Realism brought in a new conception of the artist as self-publicist. Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, and others purposefully courted controversy and used the media to enhance their celebrity in a manner that continues among artists to this day.

Most Important Art

[Realist most famous art]

Realism Overview Continues Below


Before Realism: History Painting and the Academy

Established in 1648 by Louis XIV, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculptureor Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture governed the production of art in France for nearly two centuries. Given France’s prominence in European culture during that time, the Academy set standards for art across the continent, providing studio training for young talent and recognizing artistic achievement at its semi-regular Salon exhibitions.

The “highest” form of art, established by the Academy in a 1668 conference, was history painting: the large-scale depiction of a narrative, typically drawn from classical mythology, the Bible, literature, or the annals of human achievement. Only the strongest painters were allowed to paint in this genre, and their works were the most celebrated by the Academy. Descending in importance in the hierarchy of genres were portraiture (the depiction of important persons), genre scenes (the depiction of peasants, or “unimportant” persons), landscape (the depiction of living nature), and still life (nature morte, or “dead nature”).

Spurred by archaeological discoveries in Greece and Italy in the mid-18th century and Enlightenment ideals of reason and order, Neoclassicism became the mode par excellence for history painting in the late 1700s. Neoclassical history painting, exemplified in the work of Jacques-Louis David, used classical references, compositional techniques, and settings to comment upon contemporary events. His famous Oath of the Horatii (1784), for example, communicated the civic value of patriotism in the guise of a story from the Roman historian Livy.

In response to Neoclassicism, the Industrial Revolution, and the Enlightenment’s rationalization of life and society, Romanticism embraced irrational, intense emotion and exotic subject matter as more authentic sources for artistic creativity. Rather than beautifully ordered outdoor scenes, Romantic landscapes became arenas for the sublime conflict between man and nature. In place of David’s praise of civic virtue were history paintings like Eugène Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus(1827): a turbulent, chaotic scene inspired by a Lord Byron play wherein the titular king of Assyria commands his possessions destroyed and his terrified, beseeching wives massacred in the face of final military defeat.

Revolution, the Rejection of Tradition, and the Importance of Photography

While Romanticism might have rejected certain tenets of Neoclassicism, it did not drastically change the 17th– and 18th-century institutions of art and society. The near-perpetual state of revolution in France in the 19th century provided an impetus to enact a more radical change. After the initial 1789 Revolution, France went through the First Republic, the First Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte, the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, the 1830 Revolution, the July Monarchy, the 1848 Revolution, the Second Republic, the Second Empire, the Franco-Prussian War and institution of the Paris Commune of 1871, and the establishment of the Third Republic.

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