Realism is an art movement that emerged halfway through the mid-nineteenth century, ensuing after the 1848 revolution. A direct response to Romanticism, it repudiated the exaggerated emotions in art and leaned toward depicting things as real as they are without sugarcoating it.
Moreover, realism broke free from the drama of the Romantic movement and showed everyday life and social situations in the truest setting, often unidealized. Thus, enticing more mainstream attention to the obstacles faced by the underprivileged sector. Subjects were often the working class, presented in a natural, gritty, industrial, and ugly way.
In this article, let’s discover more about the prominent and influential artists who adopted the Realism art movement and became renowned for their paintings created in the realistic style.
1. Gustave Courbet
French painter Gustave Courbet is highly regarded as the leader and the most notable figure behind the Realism movement. His aversion to the grandeur of Romanticism made him focus on the working-class people and other laborers, which then established the foundation of realism.
Courbet surprised and shocked the art realm by deviating from the norms and what was acceptable, depicting non-idealized workers and peasants, tackling social issues through art, and even taking on indecorous subjects, specifically in his close-up work of a naked woman’s abdomen and genitals.
Some of his masterpieces include The Stone Breakers, A Burial At Ornans, La Rencontre (Bonjour Monsieur Courbet), and the Young Ladies of the Village. A true innovator, Courbet also paved the way for the succeeding art movements, such as impressionism, post-impressionism, and cubism.
2. Jean-Francois Millet
Another painter renowned for his realistic paintings is Jean-Francois Millet. His works are known for their representations of the peasant in their present social conditions, highlighting the hardships and challenges in the jobs they had to perform. Some of his most famous realistic paintings include The Winnower, The Angelus, The Sower, and The Gleaners. In his initial exhibitions, art commentators and the public disdained how rural poverty was portrayed in such an extremely honest approach. Today, some of Millet’s most notable works are displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.
3. Winslow Homer
Chiefly self-taught, American painter Winslow Homer first worked as a commercial illustrator for about two decades before mainly focusing on being a landscape painter. He became famous as a realist artist for his marine paintings that depicted man’s struggle with nature and rural paintings that showed children, young people, and their lives on the farm
Homer’s realism was authentic, emotionally controlled, and unprejudiced. He also inspired later American realist painters like Edward Hopper and George Bellows. Today, he is considered one of American art’s most prominent figures in the 19th century and a revered artist in the American art world in general.
4. Ilya Yefimovich Repin
Ilya Yefimovich Repin is a Russian realist painter, who served as one of the pillars of the social realism art movement in his country in the 19th century. He was part of the Peredvizhniki (The Itinerants’ Society), a group of Russian realist painters who objected to the social environment and academic restrictions in Tsarist Russia.
Emanating from the same humble background, Repin’s works portrayed the poor and the working-class people’s everyday conditions while also being critical of all the social structures that contributed to the existence of such circumstances.
Some of his famous works that depicted peasant life include Barge Haulers on the Volga, Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan, and Religious Procession in Kursk Province. Ilya Repin is considered the most notable Russian artist of the 19th century, with many placing his prominence on the same level as Leo Tolstoy in literature.
5. Rosa Bonheur
Rosa Bonheur is a female French artist renowned for his paintings of animals in the realistic painting style, highlighting these creatures’ coarse life in the field and on farms. Her works include Ploughing in the Nivernais (1848), showing images of two yoke of oxen helping farmers cultivate the land, and her pronounced masterpiece, The Horse Fair (1852), portraying dealers selling their horses at a Paris horse market.
Bonheur’s paintings were not only admired in France but were also acclaimed internationally. In the United States, her works were collected by American railroad business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, while Queen Victoria of England was also known to be one of Bonheur’s greatest admirers.
6. Thomas Eakins
Thomas Eakins is an American painter, fine arts educator, photographer, and sculptor, who received little critical praise during his lifetime. Today, he is now considered one of American art history’s most influential figures. People from his hometown in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were among his favorite subjects, depicting them in the truest manner possible.
His collection includes hundreds of paintings that provide an excellent glimpse of life in the state during the 19th to the 20th century. His famous work is The Gross Clinic, a medical history painting considered one of the greatest American paintings of all time. Aside from being among the prominent realists of his era, Eakins is also noted for introducing the camera to the American art studio.
7. Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper is another American painter known for his realistic paintings. His works centered on distance, isolation, and stillness, with almost no mobility and sign of life. He utilized creative means to convey his subjects’ psychological states while presenting them usually detached from their environments. In addition, he coerces viewers of his works to complete the narrative, leaving them an active role in providing their own understanding of what has been depicted.
In rural and urban settings, Hopper’s work realistically captured different aspects of American life during his lifetime. Among his famous artworks include Nighthawks, Automat, American Village, and Chop Suey, with the latter bought at an auction for nearly $92 million USD in 2018.
8. Honoré Daumier
Another leading figure in France’s realist art movement, Honoré Daumier, was a prominent printmaker, sculptor, and painter, who became widely popular for his caricatures that depicted the glaring gap in political and social life in the country in the 19th century. His works realistically present economic differences between the lower and upper classes. Thus, enticing interest and attention to the challenging circumstances most French citizens faced.
Daumier looked for heroes in the working class while satirizing the bourgeoisie and government officials. He even endured six-month imprisonment after denigrating King Louis Philippe’s regime. His renowned realistic paintings include Rue Transnonain, Gargantua, and Les Gens de Justice. His massive influence earned him the title “Michelangelo of Caricature.”
9. Adolph Von Menzel
Adolph Von Menzel is one of the most prominent German realist artists of the 19th century. His works were renowned for realistically depicting subjects, objects, and scenes from everyday life with incredible precision, detail, and unparalleled liveliness. They highlight one of the main differences between abstract art from realistic art, which is presenting things in their truest form.
Some of the most famous artworks from his oeuvre of paintings, drawings, and etchings include The Iron Rolling Mill, Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci, and The Dinner at the Ball.
10. Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth is among the most famous 20th-century artists based in the United States. For over seven decades, he adopted the realistic painting style, precisely depicting genuine views of rural life.
His most preferred subjects were the landscapes and people surrounding him. Some of his most popular works include Olson House, Wind from the Seal, Coot Hunter, and Christina’s World, with the latter being the most renowned images in 20th-century American art.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy conferred Wyeth the Presidential Medal of Freedom, making him the first painter to receive such award, the highest civilian accolade in the United States.