Realism – The Guiding Influence on Impressionism

Expressing real life through the bold strokes of color on canvas is the essence of ‘Realism.’ The ‘Realists’ were drawn more towards the natural representation of people, places, and things, rather than covering theatrical drama and lofty subjects, unlike earlier art works. Exactitude and accuracy were the supporting pillars of ‘Realism.’ Whatever the truth be, savory or unsavory, the ‘Realists’ did not shy away from illustrating it on canvas. They attempted to portray the predicaments, appearances, and the customs of the middle & lower classes of the trite and humble.

The artistic movement called ‘Realism,’ began in France in the 1850s. ‘Realists’ mainly highlighted the ignored and the uglier aspects of the contemporary social structure in the most naturalistic physical settings, underscoring its mental attitudes, values, and material conditions. ‘Realism’ gained immense popularity with the introduction of ‘photography,’ an invention that was a direct result of the desire to reproduce “objectively real” imagery. The soul of ‘Realism’ is present in any well-observed and accurately delineated work. In fact, ‘Realism’ was more of a reactionary movement to oppose the unchecked spread of ‘Rocco Art,’ ‘Romanticism,’ ‘Classicism,’ ‘Academicism,’ and any other genre that dealt with everything other than the mundane aspects of everyday life of a common person.

‘Domestic Art’ and the ‘still life’ works of ‘Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin’ were one of the most celebrated contributions to ‘Realism.’ However, it was French painter, ‘Gustave Courbet,’ who set forth the first program of ‘Realistic’ painting. He reproduced landscapes and village life as meticulously as possible. His painting technique involved rich, creamy applications of thick paint, often with a palette knife, and the use of traditional colors, such as browns, greens, and blues.

The promoters of this movement totally discarded the formulas of ‘Neo Classicism’ and the theatrical drama of ‘Romanticism.’ They focused purely on painting familiar scenes and events, which were factual and not hypothetical. Some of the treasures of the ‘Realistic Art’ that won acclaims everywhere were “Stone Breakers” (1849) by Gustave Courbet, “The Salmon Fisher” (1889) by Elif Peterssen, and “Escaping Criticism” (1874) by Pere Borrell del Caso.

In the due course of time, ‘French Realism’ became a guiding influence on the ‘Impressionist’ works of the mid 1860s. The crucial link between ‘Realism’ and ‘Impressionism’ was French ‘Realist’ painter, ‘Édouard Manet.’ ‘Impressionists’ drew maximum inspiration from his works, which concentrated on producing the replica of the scene being captured. ‘Impressionism’ can be seen as an offshoot of ‘Realism,’ but in its turn it had to battle with the more popular style of ‘Romanticism.’