Art Movements in History - Realism Art

"The Weeders", by Jules Breton, was a departure from the artist's tradition of depicting historical scenes.

The Realism Art Movement began in the 1840s in France following the 1848 French Revolution. The style of the movement, as its name would imply, was in favor of focusing on depictions of real life and everyday people. Realist painters depicted common labors and ordinary people going about their contemporary life of the period, often being engaged in real activities in everyday surroundings. The style also used simple, basic details which stood in contrast to the pretty and fanciful detail of the previous styles of art.

4. History and Development

The art movement began in France during the 1840s following a turbulent half-century with multiple revolutions and leadership changes, starting with the French Revolution (1789-99) and throughout the Revolutions of 1848 (1848-49) that spread across parts of Europe. It was also during this period that the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment had been spreading across Europe, bringing about many cultural, economic and technological changes. It was in this setting that the art movement of realism challenged the previous art movements of Neoclassicism, Romanticism and History Painting which had been the dominant art forms in the previous decades.

Realism responded to this ever-changing political and social upheaval, as well as the changing landscape by challenging the previous art movements by focusing on a simple representation of everyday people and nature, as opposed to the fanciful, high-class traditional art forms. It is therefore regarded by many as the first modern art movement. It would take a while for the art to become popular outside of France, as it took until the 1860s for it to start developing in countries like Russia, England, and America.

3. Notable Artists

James Whistler, "Symphony in White, no. 1".

Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet (1819-77) was a French artist who was responsible for leading the realist movement of art from the beginning in France during the 1840s. Courbet, like some in the Realism Art Movement, saw the style as a way to visually represent the margins of French society and attack political power and the art institution in France. At his art exhibition at the Salon in Paris in 1851, Courbet showed one of the most important realism works, "A Burial at Ornans." This painting marked the debut of Realism in the European art world and caused controversy with its large scale funeral depiction of Courbet's grand uncle, which was something that had only done for royal or religions works.

IIya Yefimovich Repin (1844-1930) was the most celebrated Russian artist of the 19th century. He played a major role in realism art in Russia and brought it into the greater mainstream culture of Europe. His early 1970s work "Barge Haulers on the Volga" called attention to low-class labor and social inequality in Russia by showing a group of poor workers having to pull a ship upstream with their bodies while tied together. Despite the subject matter, Repin was praised by the Russian nobles for showing the strength of the Russian spirit in the average everyday man. At the same time, he was also showing the world the ways in which rural labor was being exploited.

2. Decline and Subsequent Successive Movements

In the 1860s, as the movement moved beyond France and to the rest of Europe and America, it became the influential art movement art for most of the second half of the 19th century. However, as the style became more embraced and adopted by the mainstream world of painting, realism became less common and useful in terms of defining a specific artistic style. This was also partially due to Impressionism, which appeared in 1860s France, and later art movements after it. All of these movements put much less importance on having the precise illusionism style brushwork that the realism movement had used. By the 1880s, the Realism Art Movement had ended.

1. Legacy

Thomas Eakins, "the Biglin Brothers Racing".

Despite the Realism Art Movement ending in the 1880s and being surpassed by other styles of art, it has never really gone away. As mentioned before, when the style got adopted to the mainstream, it lost its specific art style that defined it. However, realism has still been influential beyond its movement due to its subject matter. The style has since influenced a number of later movements, trends, and artists in the art world. Realism influenced them by its use of illusionism style brushwork or more importantly in its focus on a deception of real, everyday people and subjects that have led to a depiction of future realist subject matter in other art forms.


More in Society