Realism in Art

October 21, 2014 | | 3 Comments

Realism, was an art movement that started in 1840 and lasted until the early 20th century. This movement was inspired by the uprisings of the working class around Europe. Artists shifted their focus from depicting the elite to depicting the simple. Instead of having a statesman pose while they painted, these artists would go out into nature and paint whatever they saw. The artists of this movement rejected the ideas of Romanticism.

Gustave Courbet was a French Realist painter who lived from 1819-1877. He was one of the main proponents of Realism and focused his paintings on the natives who lived in the same region as he did. One famous painting by Courbet was The Stone Breakers. In this painting, Courbet paints an old man and a young boy, both peasants, working the fields. Courbet shows the lack of glamour in rural life in many ways, like the boy’s torn shirt and the old man’s calloused hands. Unfortunately, this painting has been lost.

But, Realism was not unique to paintings. Realist books emerged during this era as well. One important Realist author was Thomas Hardy, who lived 1840-1928. He came from humble origins, his father being a mere builder. The countryside where he grew up significantly influenced his Realist sentiments. In 1891, he published one of his most enduring works, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a story about a peasant girl dealing with the hardships life, love, and circumstance. It is an incredible read, I highly recommend it.

Both artists’ work was met with great criticism and controversy. Courbet’s paintings were criticized for the ugliness of the people they depicted, and for the blurring of class lines suggested when he used words like ‘ladies’ to title paintings of peasant women. Hardy’s works were met with apprehension because they addressed themes like sin and the caprices of religion and marriage. This makes sense, because the Realist movement, as previously mentioned, was inspired in part by the many revolutions of the period. The elites were uncomfortable with the poor, and so wanted little to do with their struggles. So, they rejected art that forced them too see the humanity of the poor.

Written by: Zach White and Rachel Manning

Sources: http:// and

Image source:,-1849.html

Since Tess of the d’Urberviles is in the public domain, you can find it here:


3 Comments so far

  1.    Luke Yancey on July 12, 2016 9:22 am

    The Stone Breakers is one of my favorite paintings, so thank you for using it as an example to explain realism. I think it really shows the struggles and hard work that existed in that time. However, although you stated that realism began around 1840, wouldn’t you argue that it has existed in some shape or form for much longer than that?

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