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Reference Library: Realism (arts)

Realism (arts)

'Realism' in art and literature is the depiction of subjects as they appear in everyday life, without embellishment or interpretation. The term is also used to describe works of art which, in revealing a truth, may emphasize the ugly or sordid. It represents the opposite of idealism.
Realism also refers to a mid-19th century cultural movement with its roots in France.

Cultural movement

Realism became prominent as a cultural movement in France as a reaction to the idealism of Romanticism in the middle of the 19th century. Often linked to demands for social and political reform and democracy, realism dominated the visual arts and literature of France, England and the United States from around 1840 to 1880. Prominent realists in the French literature of the 19th century include Balzac and Stendhal. Their counterparts in the visual arts include Gustave Courbet and Jean François Millet.

Visual Arts

Realists render everyday characters, situations, dilemmas, and objects, all in an "true-to-life" manner. Realists tend to discard theatrical drama, lofty subjects and classical forms of art in favor of commonplace themes.
Realism appears in art as early as 2400 BCE in the city of Lothal in what is now India, and examples can be found throughout the history of art. In the broadest sense, realism in a work of art exists wherever something has been well observed and accurately depicted, even if the work as a whole does not strictly conform to the conditions of realism. For example, the proto-Renaissance painter Giotto brought a new realism to the art of painting by rendering physical space and volume far more convincingly than his Gothic predecessors even though his paintings, like theirs, represented biblical scenes and the lives of the saints.
In the late 16th century, the prevailing mode in European art was mannerism, an artificial art of elongated figures in graceful but unlikely poses. Caravaggio emerged to change the direction of art by depicting flesh-and-blood human beings, painted directly from life with an immediacy never before seen.
A fondness for humble subjects and homely details characterizes much of Dutch art, and Rembrandt is an outstanding realist in his renunciation of the ideal and his embrace of the life around him. In the 19th century a group of French landscape artists known as the Barbizon School emphasized close observation of nature, paving the way for the Impressionism. In England the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood rejected what they saw as the formulaic idealism of the followers of Raphael, which led some of them to an art of intense realism.
Trompe l'oeil (literally, "fool the eye"), a technique which creates the illusion that the objects depicted actually exist, is an extreme example of artistic realism. Examples of this tendency can be found in art from antiquity to the present day.
Among the important realist painters are:
*Karl Briullov
*Ford Madox Brown
*Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin
*Camille Corot
*Gustave Courbet
*Honoré Daumier
*Edgar Degas (also an Impressionist)
*Thomas Eakins
*Nikolai Ge
*Aleksander Gierymski
*William Harnett (a specialist in trompe l'oeil)
*Louis Le Nain
*Édouard Manet (associated with Impressionism)
*Jean-François Millet
*Ilya Yefimovich Repin


Italian Neorealism was a cinematic movement incorporating elements of realism that developed in post-WWII Italy. Notable Neorealists included Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, and Roberto Rossellini.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Realism (arts)".