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Art realism, one of the most popular genres of art, depicts subjects of everyday life without any alteration or interpretation. It represents them as is and reveals the truth, howsoever repulsive or sordid it may be. In fact, it was during art realism that paintings started reflecting the poor stratum of the society. In a way, art realism paintings started a new wave in the world of art and illustrated the subject as close to 'reality' as possible. In an art realism gallery, you will see paintings depicting realties of life, hardships of a commoner and other art works, which are in contrast to the idyllic themes and styles of Romanticism and Classicism.
Art realism paintings were inspired by everyday characters, conditions and objects, all portrayed in a "true-to-life" context.
As a movement, art realism started in France in the 1850s. It gained prominence with the introduction of photography that facilitated the portrayal of subjects in an objectively real manner. Realists were not influenced by the personal bias, and propagated the thought of objective reality. Hence, truth and accuracy became the cornerstones of art realism paintings.
Art realism in France was an outcome of a nationwide desire for democracy. It inspired the likes of Camille Corot, Jean-Francois Millet and the Barbizon School of landscape painters. Simultaneously, England’s version of art realism paintings depicted the rebuttal of Victorian materialism and Raphaelesque conventions promoted by the London-based Royal Academy.
The second-half of the 19th century witnessed the development of the positivist age, marked by belief in the forms of knowledge that were derived from scientific and objective methods. In fact, this belief laid the foundation for art realism and discontinued the domination of Romantic subjectivism.
Prominent schools and painters who defined the development of art realism were:
The Realists (1800 - 1899) – A Paris-based group of reputed artists who created the new technique of pictorial illustration. They gave a scientific dimension to art realism paintings. They focused on real-life subjects and rewrote the ideology of artistic propriety by emphasizing a realistic presentation of modern life. Gustave Courbet, father of realism; Marie Rosalie Bonheur, known for celebrated art works, such as “The Horse Fair”, “A Scottish Raid” and “Highland Shepard”; Wilhelm Leibl, creator of “ Three Women in Church”; John Singleton Copley, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas and Thomas Eakins, were some of the legendary art realists.
The Barbizon School (1840s - 1850s) – Formed by a group of French landscape artists who advocated landscape and moments of country life as a theme of art realism paintings. Painting nature in her virgin form and interest in visible reality was its cornerstone. Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet and Pierre-Etienne-Théodore Rousseau belonged to this school.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848 - late 19th Century) - It comprised of a group of English painters who emphasized the representation of the natural world, and paid extra attention on detailing and colour.
By the end of the 19th century, art realism became a very important genre of art, stemmed from the faith in science to provide solutions to all human problems.