intellectual and cultural trends in art
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Intellectual and Cultural trends in Art . What is Realism? . It was a movement which developed in France mid 19 th century During this art era, it was thought that only the contemporary world which people saw was real

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What is Realism?

  • It was a movement which developed in France mid 19th century
  • During this art era, it was thought that only the contemporary world which people saw was real
  • This meant the disapproved thinking towards historical or fictional subjects as they were neither real no present
  • Emphasis on Empiricism and Positivism due to industrial advances during the early 19th century
    • Empiricism: the basis of knowledge is observation and experience
    • Positivism: scientific laws govern the environment and human activity which can be revealed through careful recording and analysis of observable data

The shift from Romanticism to Realism:

  • Romanticism emerged from a desire for freedom such as freedom of thought.
  • It was a believe based on imagination rather than reason and functioned through feelings not thinking.
  • Realism on the other hand took the lead in promoting the depiction of the realities of modern life


American Realist painters during the 19th century responded to the scientific spirit of the age, including famous artist such as; Eakins, Homer and Cassatt. The shift of Romanticism to Realism led to the expansion of art picturing the contemporary world and subsequently to the new movement known as Impressionism and the further course of modern art.


Thomas Eakins:

  • Born in Philadelphia (1844-1916)
  • Studied painting and medical anatomy
  • He aimed to paint things as he saw them rather than as the public might wish them portrayed
  • His combination of accurate depictions in art with his hunger for the truth went hand in hand with the American taste of the 19thcentury

Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic, 1875

  • Too brutal realism of the medical operation caused the paintings rejection from the Philadelphia exhibition celebrating Americans centennial

Winslow Homer:

  • Born in Boston (1836-1910)
  • He experienced the Civil War
  • In 1860 he joined the Union Campaign as an artist reporter from the Harpers Weekly
  • His works focused on the effects and aftermath of the catastrophic national conflict and on the greatness of his home country for its national strength

Winslow Homer, Veteran in a New Field, 1865

  • This work is a symbolism as a smooth transition from war to peace (his former role as a soldier is cast aside in order to focus on meaningful and productive work on the farm

James Whistler:

  • Born in Massachusetts (1834-1903)
  • Expatriate Artist
  • He shared the Impressionist interest in the subject of contemporary life
    • This was the sensation color produces on the eye
  • “Nature contains the elements, in color and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist us born to pick, and choose, the group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful-as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he brings forth chaos glorious harmony.”

James Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold (the falling rocket), 1875

  • Whistler conveys the atmospheric effects of fireworks at night in combination with the abstract arrangement of shapes and colors

Mary Cassatt:

  • Born in Philadelphia (1844-1926)
  • Expatriate Artist
  • Lived most of her life in Paris
  • As a woman during the 19th century she was not able to frequently visit cafes, thus most of her works are domestic based
  • Her domestic scenes were based most on the relationship between women and children

Mary Cassatt, The Bath, 1892

  • One of her most famous works representing the mother daughter relationship and her strong inspiration of Japanese art
  • Clearly based on the work of Degas (one of her many male artists friends)

Realism leading into Impressionism:

  • Artists such as James Whistler and Mary Cassatt can be seen as either Realist artists or Impressionist’s
  • Impressionism incorporates the qualities of sketches (speed, abbreviation and spontaneity)
    • This relates to realism in the sense of seeing what is in front of you and putting pen to paper so to speak, what differs is the way in which the artist see the contemporary world and how they chose to perceive it