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Realism is the artistic style, according to which the task of art is the most accurate and objective representation of reality. In the field of artistic activity, the value of realism is very complicated and contradictory. Its boundaries are volatile and uncertain; it is stylistically multifaceted and multivariate.
Narrowly, realism is understood as the direction of positivism in the visual arts of the second half of the 19th century. The term ‘realism’ was used for the first time by the French literary critic J. Champfleury in the 50s of the 19th century in order to identify the art, opposed to romanticism and academicism.
The birth of realism in painting is often associated with the work of French painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), who opened his personal exhibition named ‘Pavilion realism’ in Paris in 1855, though the artists of the Barbizon school (Theodore Rousseau, Jean- Francois Millet, Jules Breton) worked in a realistic manner before him. In the 1870s, realism was divided into two main movements – naturalism and impressionism.
In art and literature, realism is committed to the detailed description of the observed phenomena without idealization. However, the notion of realism is very wide: Egyptian monumental art can be called realistic, while the artists, painting photographic copies of the nature, are also realists. The popularity of realism is caused by the overall availability and understandability of this art. The concept of ‘realism’ literally means ‘real’, ‘natural’. If we talk about art, then here is the direction, which truthfully and objectively reflects the reality, using the specific tools.
Realism in painting is characterized by a certain artistic system of the mid-19th century, which is theoretically justified as the aesthetically conscious method.
The main requirement of realism is an appeal to the modern reality in the variety of manifestations, while relying on an exact science. The representatives of this movement, as well as Courbet with his The Stone Breakers and Burial at Ornans, used clear and precise techniques, replacing some ‘flimsy and vague’ tricks of the previous direction of romanticism with them. The weighty importance in the further development of this trend was the revolution of 1848, which broke the illusions of the French intellectuals.
The realism paintings, including The Stone Breakers and Burial at Ornans by Courbet, are the truthful, objective, and comprehensive reflection of reality by the specific means, which are inherent in artistic creativity. During the development of art, realism acquires the concrete historical forms and creative methods – educational, critical, socialistic realism.
In a narrow sense, realism is seen as an artistic style; we can assume that it emerges in the era of the Enlightenment (18th c.). The most complete disclosure features of realism are seen in the critical realism of the 19th century and in the works of Courbet. Those realistic paintings explore the human personality in close connection with the contemporary society and social position in it.
The common feature of realism is the accuracy in the reproduction of reality. However, realistic art has a huge variety of ways of the perception, generalizations and artistic reflection of reality. For example, realism of Masaccio and P. Della Francesco, A. Durer and Rembrandt, as well as the works of Repin, Surikov and Serov differ significantly from each other and show the widest creative possibilities of realism.
As the distinctive features of realism of Courbet, some researchers name the following:
Ratio-centrical psychology (the identification of the psyche and consciousness);
Truthful, specific and historical, comprehensive painting of the typical events and characters in typical circumstances with the veracity of details;
Principle of the exact match to the reality perceived as a criterion of artistry;
The character and deeds of the heroes in their paintings explain the social origin and status of the hero, as well as the conditions of the everyday life;
Conflicts (or dramatization) is used as the composite method for the forming of artistic truth;
Free construction of works;
Solutions to problems on the basis of universal values.
It should be mentioned that Courbet repeatedly spoke of himself as a realist: Painting is to provide the things that the artist can see and touch … I am firmly of the view that the painting is very concrete art and can only consist in the real image given us things … this is a completely physical language.
Realism, which replaced romanticism, is often regarded as the opposition to this style, although the relationships they have are more complex because romanticism was intended to create a new, beautiful and true reality. Critical realism, which existed in the art of the European countries and America, has been focused on the depiction of life of disadvantaged sections of society, contrasting their lives to the lives of rich people, and was characterized by the sympathy to the unfavorable fate.
Realism in art of Courbet is the accuracy of the image of the world, its thorough study, showing the daily life in terms of aesthetic principles and social orientation. It is the image of the actually occurring changes over the time, in contrast to classicism, which cultivated the static, unchanging existence.
Every realist was supposed to represent the objects with more or less complete respective reality, but it seems most clear in the portraiture. However, the similarity was not the only advantage of the portrait: realism required the reality of a higher order. It was vital and specific, but not coarse, trivial or low. Naturalism of Courbet did not allow such limitations: he loved the sharp and rough images existing in the reality.
Courbet is a French painter, as well as the landscape, genre painter and portraitist. He is considered to be one of the founders of realism in painting. He is one of the greatest artists of France during the 19th century, a key figure of French realism.
The name of Courbet is associated with creation of a new aesthetic value justifying statements in everyday art, as well as a new assertion of critical realism in French painting. The following Courbets words about the purpose of the artist are full of significance and independence: Being able to transfer customs, ideas according to my estimation … in short, to create the living art – this is my goal. Despite the lack of pictures in a pronounced social orientation, the fact that the artist refers to the reality around him simply and naturally says about the origin of the realistic method in his painting.
Thus, classical realism in painting is characterized by the fact that it strictly followed the canons of classical representation of reality. Moreover, the composition, light, color – everything must strictly comply with the reality. Looking at any work of Courbet, one can see almost a photographic representation of reality. Therefore, realism is the art movement, characterized by the image of the social, psychological, economic and other effects, relevant to the actual and real.