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Realism is often recognized as the first modern art movement, mostly because it was such a divergence from the normal styles seen in previous movements. It revolutionized art and challenged conceptions of what constituted art.

Instead of painting religious images and figures or those of nobility they brought everyday life onto the canvas. Much of this was influenced by the social changes happening around the artists.

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Prior to Realism, artists submitted their artwork to galleries called Salons as well as the official Academy of Art. During this movement artists were all about breaking norms and pushing for social change so many, even though they continued to submit to Salons and the Academy they also were not scared to hold solo shows for the general public.

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Below is some basic information on Realism and its characteristics and influences. If you would like to print off a copy of this page along with samples of art from this period, you can download the Realism summary above.

Jean-François Millet
Jean-François Millet

Millet’s artwork reflected his values and humble manner of living. He found beauty in the life of peasants, as seen here in his painting, The Gleaners. Millet saw virtue and Godliness in physical labor and had a great respect for the life of the lower class. He often depicted them in a manner that was traditionally reserved for more exalted subjects. "A peasant I was born, a peasant I will die." - J. F. Millet

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Honoré Daumier
Honoré Daumier

The first five years of rule under Louis Phillippe I resulted in more freedom of the press. It was during this time that Honoré Daumier began publishing caricatures that criticized the monarch, very similar to the political cartoons we still see today in our newspapers. The caricature above is called Gargantua; it depicts the king as a gluttonous giant.

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Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet

Courbet led the charge for socialism in France as he constantly assaulted political powers, materialistic values and the institution of art itself. His simplistic painting of a rural funeral in A Burial at Ornans marked the debut of Realism as a movement with significant force and influence that would revolutionize the European art scene.

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Quick Facts:
  • Recognized as the first modern art movement that rejected traditional ideas about what art was

  • It depicted real-life events and real-life people no matter their status

  • Introduced artists as self-publicists fueled by the explosion of print media

Characteristics and/or Types of Art:
  • Used dark and earthy color palettes to challenge the traditional, idealistic view of beauty

  • Challenged the materialistic values or conventional attitudes of the upper and middle class

  • Revolution

  • Social and political change

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