Realism and its Styles

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Realism as an artwork movement started in France after the 1848 Revolution. Realists consider that the ultimate goal of literature, painting, track and other acts of social integration is to communicate sincere and objectively about the spheres of modern life. Arising after the tumultuous and radical changes of the French Revolution, realism used to be intended to support democratic reforms inside the political system of the time. It was a direct rejection of the exaggerated emotionalism and drama related with Romanticism.
Instead, realists were intent and determined to painting life in its authentic varieties without moderation, and to avoid sordid and inaccurate illustration of the lives of contemporary people. This philosophical and artistic movement got a significant boost after the advent of photography. It provided a new visual medium that created and represented life in objective and realistic occurrences. Gustave Courbet in championing realism had intended create a recording of events and actual images of his surrounding based on direct sensory observation of the contemporary environment.

Over the course of time and influenced by social, economic and industrial innovations, realisms have metamorphosed through several stages. The following are phases in the evolution of realism since the era of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).

State and evolution of realism

It is during this era that realists have had several socio-economic events to capture and represent. The horrific world wars, the global recession following the end of world wars, the holocaust in Europe, the Vietnam War, industrial revolutions and the emergence of sophisticated weaponry. The following schools of realism have appeared to document the themes in fine art and sculpture.

Verismo (1890-1900s)

Verismo is an Italian word for raw realism without fine and exaggerated interpretation. Music, arts and literature of this age represented average contemporary human beings and their existential challenges and problems, most of sexual, romantic or violent nature. It was deviation from Romanticism that heralded gods, mythological figures, kings and queens.

Ashcan school (1908-1913)

This school was composed by a small group of painters. Theirs was an attempt to chronicle life as it unfolded in New York during the pre-war period. The results were a realistic and un-varnished images and etchings of urban landscape and social set ups. This school, comprised Everett Shinn, George Luks, George Wesley Bellows, William Glackens and John Sloan, had been greatly influenced by the previous realistic works by Thomas Eakins. The legacy of this school endured through the paintings by the American Social Realism of 1920s and 30s. Examples in this school include House by the Railroad and Lighthouse at Two Lights.

Precisionism (1920s)

This school was more futuristic in their paintings and deposition of the social, physical structural environment. The members in this school were labelled Immaculates, Sterilists or modern classicists. It was sharp-focus realism and its most proponents were Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Social Realism (1920s/1930s)

It was used to describe the urban American Scene artists who worked during the Depression era, and was greatly influenced by the Ashcan school of New York City. This is a naturalistic form of realist depiction with special focus on social issues and the day-to-day challenges of humanity. The proponents of social realism school included Ben Shahn, Jack Levin and Jacob Lawrence.

Socialist Realism (1925-1935)

This is a form of public propaganda championed by the Joseph Stalin during industrialization age in Soviet Russia. This style glorified the Soviet Man and worker for their immense contributions in industrial development. It was depicted in various forms including huge murals, posters, and other various forms of public art and even evocative imagery. Maxim Gorky was forefront in championing this artistic movement through street and factory artistic drawings and images. He was not very successful. This artistic and philosophical movement was at the heart of communist propagandist including Soviet era supremo, Andrei Zhadanov. It spread through Spain and France through the works of Renato Gatusso (Sulphur Miners) and Andre Fougeron (Matyred Spain).


It came to existence in Paris after the publication of Andre Breston’s manifesto. Basically surrealism is a form of artistic movement that seeks to unleash the creative and imaginative nature of unconscious human minds. There are two sub-categories of surrealism that have emerged: fantasy-like paintings and automatism. Despite the extreme and overtly imaginative nature, thus deviating from the core of realism, surrealism has been very resilient in the face of technological advancement and sophistication. It remains very powerful and influential in social advancements and activism. Among the famous surrealist painting include the persistence of memory and the Disintegration of the persistence of memory.

Magic Realism

Magical realism offers a parallel art movement to surrealism. However, while both artistic movements are anchored daily human realities magical realism is characterised by excessive overtones of fantasy and fanfare. Magical realism was part of the return to order artistic expressions in Europe arising after the world war. Vibrant members of this schools included Georgia de Chirico in Italy, Adolf Ziegler and Alexander Kanoldt from Germany. This artistic movement has been applied to contemporary American painters after World War II such as Paul Cadmus, Philip Evergood and Ivan Albright.

Euston Road School

This is a left-leaning school that came up after 1938, comprising students who graduated from School of Painting and Drawing in Euston Road, London. This school proclaimed the supremacy of art in a realist manner, in order to allow it to be more understandable. Members of this school of realisms include Graham Bell, William Coldstream, Lawrence Gowing, Rodrigo Moyniham and Claude Rogers.

Holocaust Art

It consists of three types:

Nazi propaganda which was imagery use to perpetuate the massacres in Europe

Images created by victim that underwent the individual experiences

Post-war memorials.


This school of realism emerged after photographic influence in art. Here, artist would paint images that closely resemble photographs, however they have been considered banal and shallow on content and interest. It can also be exceptional in the depiction and representation skills of the artist. Prominent members of this school include Richard Estes who would recreate scenes on the streets with magnificent window reflections.


It is a general term to describe a mixture of surrealism and photorealism, also known as Super-realism.


Bohn, Willard. "From Surrealism To Surrealism: Apollinaire And Breton." The Journal Of Aesthetics And Art Criticism, vol 36, no. 2, 1977, p. 197. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/429760.

McGraw, Clare. "The Realism/Anti-Realism Debate In Religion." Philosophy Compass, vol 3, no. 1, 2007, pp. 254-272. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2007.00121.x.

Saxena, Vandana. "Magical Worlds, Real Encounters: Race And Magical Realism In Young Adult Fiction." The ALAN Review, vol 38, no. 3, 2011, Virginia Tech Libraries, doi:10.21061/alan.v38i3.a.6.

Zavedeeva, Irina et al. "Socialist Realism And Socialist Realist Romanticism." Art In Translation, vol 8, no. 2, 2016, pp. 259-277. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/17561310.2016.1216058.

August 09, 2021



Art Movements

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Painting Realism

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