Rousseau, Theodore (1812-?)
Millet, Jean-Francois (1814-1875)
Constant Troyon
Courbet, Gustave (1819-1877)
Daumier, Honore (1808-1879)
Constable, John
Corot, Jean-Baptiste Camille (1796-1875)
    his followers:
Daubigny, Charles (1817-)
Boudin, Eugene (1824-1898)


1. preoccupation with fact or reality: objective procedure not influenced by idealism, speculation or sentimentalism : disposition to think and act objectively and unemotionally and to reject what is impractical or visionary 2a. a doctrine in philosophy that universals exist outside the mind : the conception that what a general or abstract term names is an independent and unitary reality or essence : (1) the doctrine that universals exist prior to things- called also Platonic realism : (2) the doctrine that universals exist in things - called also Aristotelian realism 2b. the philosophical conception that objects of sense perception or sometimes of cognition in general are real in their own right and exist independently of their being known or related to mind - called also epistemological realism; compare to idealism, phenomenalism 2c. a doctrine or theory in sociology that hold that a human collectively, group, or institution has a reality apart from the individual members comprising it - contrasted with nominalism. 3a. the theory or practice in art and literature of fidelity to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization of the most typical views, details and surroundings of the subject (photographic ~ or naturalism in the realm of art -John Somerville) - opposed to idealism 3b. excessive minuteness of detail or preoccupation with trivial sordid or squalid subjects in art and literature <a fearless ~ that exploited until then forbidden subject matter -J.W. Aldridge> 4. a conception of the science of law and of the administration of justice that sees rules by their consequences, and emphasizes the non-logical and irrational factors in decision.


Verismo, a French term for Realism: a late 19th century movement towards Naturalism. In European Literature: Zola, and Operas with low social characters and fierce brutal passions.

A restricted meaning of the term refers to a predominantly French movement between 1848-1860 in reaction to Romanticism and the academicism of late Neo-Classicism. Seen as early as the restoration of the Bourbons and the July Monarchy, Realism extended into succeeding movements. Originating in France, R was fed by England, Holland and then Spain; and eventually spread throughout Europe. R remained faithful to the academic principles of studio painting, nude models and dark colors. Despite factual observation in contrast to Romantic idealism, R desired for a similar "powerful effect" and had a "humanitarian outlook".2

With the quickening pace of scientific progress there was an increasing exact understanding of natural reality. Art had become complaisant, reflecting a "faithful, unadventurous image" of bourgeois France under Louis-Philippe whom were "self-satisfied, fond of comfort if not beauty, prosperous and thrifty." Similar to the Dutch bourgeoisie of the 17th Century. This aspect of French Realism is comparable to the German Biedermeier style. It was popularized by lithography.

Sculpture despite the efforts of Jules Dalou and Constantin Meunier (see his mention in Naturalism) was not deeply affected by the Realism movement.

Courbet, "The foundation of realism is the negation of the ideal."

"But it is also an affirmation of the beauty of earthly fruits and an exploration of the earth."2

The Painters

The "soft sentimentality" of Octave Tassaert (1800-1874). "Bitter and moralizing" caricatures of Gavarni and Henri Monnier. Also note Eugene Lami. Besides the caricaturists, realist painters were not drawn by a "generalized, transcendent vision" but "loved the meticulous detail of a relatively cozy world".

Barbizon is a small village in the forest of Fontainebleau and the name given to a school in the 1830ís including: Theodore Rousseau, Constant Troyon and Millet. They sketched outdoors and painted in their studios, and had a romantic aversion to urban. They fought historic landscape painting, the Romantics such as Paul Huet, and the illustrations for travel books. Followed Georges Michel, The Barbizon school "called for a return to the observation of nature, whose grandeur and mystery they found moving".2 Derived their technical manner from 17th century Dutch painting and influenced by English art. Note the stir at the Salon of 1824 over Constable. Corot was loosely associated and it was not until him and later the Impressionists (for whom the Barizon artists are considered forerunners) that the "close, airless world depicted in a somewhat arbitrary range" was invaded by a "movement of the elements."

Daumier's realism "lay in his bitter, tormented imagination, which sympathized with the oppressed." He used a Romantic technique, impetuous impasto and "somber yet fiery colors". Millet "had an elementary grandeur, a powerful and sometimes arbitrary color range that enabled him to express his love of humble folk and the poetry of the country". Courbet "created a massive, solemn world, which arrested movement and became heroic in its truthfulness."

The Next Generation

Millet succeeded by Leon Lhermite (1844-1925), Jules Bastien-Lepage, Camille Flers, and Adolphe-Felix Cals.

Courbet continued by Alphonse Legros, Guillaume Regamey (1837-1875), and by most of the painters of the Salon de Refuses, then under the leadership of Monet, it inspired future Impressionists.

Corot' followers Antoine Chintreuil, Charles Daubigny, Eugene Boudin, and Johan Barthold Jongkind were the principle forerunners of Impressionism "because their vision ultimately became more subtle if not less realistic."

Beyond France

England: The Pre-Raphaelite Movement as a "cross-bred realism with a complicated mysticism and an obvious archaism."2

Spain: Painter Mariano Fortuny mixed realism with a "flashy, superficial fa presto."

Belgium: the Tervuren School: Charles Degroux, Henri Braekeleer and Alfred Stevens, whose skillful technique with a casual touch and fresh colors reminiscent of Manet.2

Holland: The Hague School with national tradition mixed with a "specific, sentimental realism." Jozef Israels and even an early Van Gogh.

Germany: Literary allusion and pastiche dominated genuine realism. Wilhelm Leibl and Hans Thoma.

Italy: Limited effect as a transitional phase to the Macchiaioli group including Silvestro Lega and Telemaco Silvestro Lega. Note Antonio Fontanesi's realism.

Rumania: Nicolae Grigoresco and Ion Andreescu

Hungary: Mihaly Munkacsy (see mention in Naturalism)

Russia: Ilya Repin

Earlier forms of Realism

Realism may also refer to the 17th century in response to 16th century Mannerism. In Italy this was led by Carracci, Caravaggio; in Spain by Ribalta, Ribera, Velazquez and Zerbaran; in Flanders by Rubens (whose realism changed to Baroque); in Holland with Hals, Vermeer and Rembrandt; in France the genre painters La Tour, Le Nain, Tournier, the portrait painters Champaigne and Bourdon, and the still life painter Baugin. In France these paintings were set against canons of history painting and the Mannerist School of Fontainebleau. See similar painting by Chardin in the next century.2

Realistic landscape and genre scenes were concerned with "the scrupulous recording of the present, unembellished by squeamish conventionality." Regional differences: Flemish and Dutch gambling dens, and Bolognese and Sevillian bodegones realized "minute and analytical technique" that omitted nothing in an "anxiety to obtain meticulous truth". The realism of Caravaggio is dramatic with theatrical lighting that anticipates the Baroque. The French realism: a muted intimacy, along with the work of Vermeer, Zurbaran and Chardin.



1)    Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster Inc., 1993.
2)    Praeger Encyclopedia of Art Luc-Reinhardt. Praeger Publishers, 1971.