Realism by Linda Nochlin


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Realism by Linda Nochlin

Several years ago I became enamored with the work of Gustave Courbet. I read two books on his life and art, and after reading those books I began to get interested in his role in the 19th century art movement, Realism, and how it differed from the prevailing idealistic schools of thought that were prevalent in France at the time, namely Romanticism and Neoclassicism.

This book is an excellent survey of the Realism movement. The main themes about this art movement are:

  • Realism was a revolutionary style, born out of political revolution.
  • Realism was a running counter the accepted art standards of the day, namely Neoclassicism and Romanticism
  • Realism art focused on depictions of everyday life completed on grand scale canvases, the sizes that were usually only used for history paintings.
  • A viewer does not need to have a background in the Classics to understand the Realism paintings.
  • Realism never depicted imagined characters, ie. you will never find an angel in a Realist painting.

This book also covered how this school of thought was interpreted and applied by the different artists of the time. I was particularly fascinated in how English artists differed in their interpretation of these ideas versus the French artists. In England, the ideas behind Realism were more identified by the Pre-Raphaelite artists of England, and they interpreted realism to focus on subject matter like the French Realist artists did but also, the English took it further to even mean the way they would paint every blade of grass and include the minutest details into their composistions.

Where the French artist that followed Realism, made it more about social commentary, and in some ways the ideas were even adopted by Monet and Degas in some of the subject matter that they chose to paint at times.

If you want to understand more about the ideas that informed the 19th century artists, this is a great book to really dive in and submerge yourself in.

Realism: (Style and Civilization)