File:Self-Portrait MET DP152808.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Realistic self-portrait by Golden age Dutch realist artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn


The art has been a part and parcel of mankind since the beginning. And along with the evolution of humans, the art has evolved as well. Different ages have seen different art forms getting popularity. At one time, the artists preferred drawing landscapes, abstract art. With time, artists moved away from paining romantic and idealistic way of life and moved towards portraying real life on the canvas. This movement is called Realism.  

What is Realism?  

Also called Naturalism, Realism, is an art movement which started in the middle of the 19th century. The artists following this art attempted to move away from a utopian view of life and started showcasing the subject matter truthfully and without any partiality. They wanted the art to be made free from the elitist way of life and have a greater connect with the common man. These artists   

This art form was attempted without any kind of artificiality and tried to avoid speculative fiction and supernatural elements. The art of realism has been prevalent in the arts at many periods, and many cultures, and can be in large part a matter of technique and training, and the avoidance of stylization.  

In the visual arts, illusionistic realism is the accurate depiction of life forms, perspective, and the details of light and colour. But realist or naturalist works of art may, as well or instead of illusionist realism, be "realist" in their subject matter, and emphasize the mundane, ugly or sordid.  

History of Realism:  

The movement to bring reality into art started in France in the year 1850. This was in the aftermath of the French Revolution that ended in the year 1848. After the French revolution, French society was facing a lot of challenges. There was a sense of depression everywhere. This prompted some artists to reject the existing art form of¬†Romanticism, which was very prevalent since the 18th century. They felt that such an art is very ‚Äėunreal‚Äô as it was very elitist and gave a very unreal picture of the situation around. They wanted their art to be a reflection of the real world around.¬†¬†

The biggest turning point in realism came in 1885, when the famous French painter, Gustave Courbet used the term ‚ÄėrealismeŐĀ‚Äô to describe his painting. This term till now was considered unworthy. Courbet took the entire art world by shock when he exhibited large scale paintings of peasants, floor scrapers and other ordinary men.¬†¬†

Since then realism has encouraged various movements in other art forms also, where there was a hint of realism. These movements involved the opera style of verismo, literary realism, theatrical realism, and Italian neorealist cinema.  

Characteristics of Realism:  

The realism art attempts to make art from democratic. They felt the reach of art was very limited and can be understood by elite people only. They wanted to take the art to more common people. This, they felt, can be done only when the art reflects the real-life situations.   

They felt that the nature of realistic art should move away from the life of the city streets, cafés and popular entertainments and should showcase the ordinary people and social classes. These people were hitherto believed to be unworthy of representation in high art.   

Since the rise of Modern art, realism has also come to be associated with a stylistic representation that more or less pre-dates post-impressionism. The term has mostly come to be associated with the grittiness of choice of subject and an imitative, mimetic representation of it.  

Realism and modern art:  

The way realism attempted portraying the art away from traditional forms of art, literature, and social organization. These artists were inspired in the wake of political and social changes in society. Working in a chaotic era marked by the Industrial Revolution and widespread social change due to enlightenment, the realist painters replaced the idealistic images and literary conceits of traditional art with real-life events.  

In many ways, realism is considered to be the beginning point of modern art. Due to this art movement only, a new generation of artists came on the art scene and the artists started selecting realistic topics and started choosing contemporary life and everyday situations of the modern world as suitable subjects for art.   

Looking from a philosophical angle, Realism attempted to seek new truths by reviewing all the existing norms and traditional systems of values and beliefs. The artists carefully observed how the real world and common man’s life was structured socially, economically, politically, and culturally and then attempted to portray the same things on the canvas. This led the painters to move away from depicting only the beautiful and started portraying the unpleasant but real moments and events of life. O portray reality, they used dark, earthy palettes that challenged high art's ultimate ideals of beauty.  

Due to its rebellious nature, many traditional artists criticized it and termed this art movement as anti-institutional and nonconformist. These realist painters aimed at the social values of the bourgeoisie and monarchy upon were patronizing the art till then. They used to pay the artists and asked them to paint their portraits, landscapes etc. which then adorned their homes and offices.  

Following the Industrial Revolution, and the invention of the printing press, the idea of realism got a big boost. It brought a new concept of the artist as self-publicist.  

Gustave Courbet,¬†√Čdouard Manet, and others purposefully courted controversy and used the media to enhance their celebrity in a manner that continues among artists to this day.¬†¬†