February 2, 2011

Today many people admire works that they consider ‘realistic’, by that they mean works that show an aesthetic or anatomical likeness to real things. This idea came from classicism, and working from life, an idea echoed through the renaissance and neoclassicism. The Realism of the 19th Century however referred to the theme of the work rather than the style. Realists like Millet, Degas and Manet painted everyday people instead of people from myths, biblical stories, or from royalty. Their works were real in a different ways, this gives the term Realism today more than one meaning.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

Jenny Saville, Plan, 1993

The two paintings above are both examples of realism, they show two real women, and were both considered shocking when shown to the public. Manet’s Olympia is not shocking to us in the slightest today, at first glance we see a nude in a pose very reminiscent of the Venus. The difference was however, that this woman was a courtesan, not a woman posing as a goddess.  Art historians and Critics were outraged by Manet’s supposed lack of morality when showing things that they saw as entirely inappropriate. People were shocked by Saville’s realist works in a different way, her paintings that are almost too real are painted from  injury photographs taken in hospital. We live in a society today full of digitally enhanced and edited images that make people look unnaturally beautiful, we don’t see this kind of imagery because we personally wouldn’t choose to.

This painting below by John Bratby is a realist painting even though Bratby’s style is more impasto and impressionistic. He chose to depict something part of our everyday life, the toilet.


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