Both Realism and Impressionism began in France with both art periods lending to the world unique techniques, aesthetic approaches and subjects in painting. While Impressionism stemmed from Realism, it can be argued Impressionism ultimately lead to continued individual expression in art through out the historical art periods to follow.
The art period of Realism from 1845 to 1900, has roots which trail back to mid 1800s France and developed as a reaction to the often exaggerated emotionalism of the former art period of Romanticism. Realist artists instead strove to depict the seriousness of every day life. To show subjects or scenes just as they were without involvement of religion, mythology or history. McDowall (1918) pointed “At the bottom of realism, in all its variations, seems to be the sense of actual existence; an acute awareness of it, and a vision of things under that form. It is a thoroughly natural feeling, it is, in fact, the primitive attitude of man” (p. 3). In painting, film and literature artists aimed to present things as they appear.
A major social condition that contributed to the emergence of Realism was the Industrial Revolution. With its mass machinery production of products, the Industrial Revolution not only created an explosion of railroads and cities but also an explosion of wealthy middle class and poor working class. The discovery of photography in 1839 by Daguerre and others also resulted in a growing trend to copy everyday life, which in turn sprouted the appeal of realism in art. Buser (2006) noted that during the Industrial Revolution the rules of life were the fundamental ideas of technology, science and practical business sense. Buser (2006) further theorized “Since progress in these fields depended on hard facts, artists likewise developed a factual and realistic style to depict modern life” (p. 411).
In painting, characteristics of Realism revolved around the idea of making subjects or scenes look real. Subjects were ordinary people, often working middle class or the lower class. Scenes were often gritty depicting poverty or hardships. Color included hues in the natural color range. Close attention was paid to proportions, perspective and accuracy. The overall tone was natural and void of embellishment. Trompe l’oeil technique was used to create an illusion that the objects depicted actually exist. Realist painters strove towards objectivity trying to paint reality as cleanly as possible. The Gleaners, 1857 is an oil on canvas painted by Jean Francois Millet, and is an example of a realist style painting, depicting three lower class, rural females bent over in a field gathering harvest left overs.
The art period of Impressionism, which flourished in France from the late 1860s to the 1880s, is often considered a by product of Realism. Impressionist artists broke away from traditional art techniques, subjects and composition, creating their own unique style. In contrast to Realism,...