‘In its specific sense realism refers to a mid nineteenth century artistic movement characterised by subjects painted from everyday life in a naturalistic manner; however the term is also generally used to describe artworks painted in a realistic almost photographic way. … realist subject matter meant scenes of peasant and working class life, the life of the city streets, cafes and popular entertainments, and an increasing frankness in the treatment of the body and sexual subjects.’ (Tate)

Rural naturalism
‘Nineteenth century painting movement characterized by scenes of rural life painted in a realist, often sentimentalised, manner…..The tendency to sentimentalism of the rural naturalist artists distinguishes their work from the more gritty realist work of the nineteenth century, as produced by Gustave Courbet and his followers. In Britain, rural naturalism is exemplified by the Newlyn School painting and the work of artists such as George ClausenHenry Herbert La Thangue and Edward Stott.’ (Tate)

‘Life in the middle of the 19th century was completely changed by the growth of science and industry. ‘That the period between Romanticism and Impressionism should be called Realism is unfortunate when there have been other periods and schools where the same underlying aesthetic aims may be found. But the painters of the 19th century – those in favour of Realism as well as those against – themselves gave the movement its title. In 1855 Courbet used the term Realisme to describe his one-man art exhibition in the Place de l’Alma, Paris, which was staged to protest against the Paris Salon for rejecting his submissions. But he admitted in the catalogue that “The title of Realism has been imposed on me, just as the title of Romantic was imposed on the artists of 1830.” Nevertheless he frequently adopted the term when later defining his art. In 1856 Duranty used the title Le Realisme for a journal which he founded, and Champfleury used the same title for a book he published the following year.’

Broadly considered the beginning of modern art. Concerned itself with how life was structured socially, economically, politically, and culturally in the mid-nineteenth century. This led to unflinching, sometimes “ugly” portrayals of life’s unpleasant moments and the use of dark, earthy palettes. Realist painters took aim at the social mores and values of the bourgeoisie and monarchy.

Millet – Angelus

In the 19th century, the bells of Catholic churches throughout Germany and the rest of Europe, rang each day to call people to religious observances of many kinds.
“The Angelus” and reflects a religious custom as it was observed in France at the time of the artist, Jean-Francois Millet.  Three times a day – in the early morning, at noon, and finally in the late afternoon or early evening, people were called to prayer by the bell/s in the tower of the church.

Realists and realist/impressionists



Although described as realists, portrayals are not ‘realistic’ in the ‘photographically accurate’ sense. Rather they focus on ‘real’ people and places, in some cases sympathetically drawn, in others more gritty and dark.

Rural subjects by realist painters are often soft, bucolic, idyllic. The countryside, although a hard life, is painted softly, the skies warm and often golden. There is a feeling of a life of calm, gentle breezes and soft sunshine and the pleasure of manual work. Imagery is somewhat idealised, romantic and bordering on the fantastic. Subject matter evokes feelings of an attractive environment, a place one would want to relax in. Somewhere for the wealthy to gaze fondly on.

Urban scenes by realist painters are (Van Gogh’s street scenes aside) rather darker, the subjects more urbane and less idealised/romanticised. The dress is more appropriate to town living, more sophisticated and gentrified. High class women are at leisure, women work in more ‘industrial’ settings. Scenes are more diverse, urban parks, bars, high streets, events, interiors. Figures may be more or less prominent, sometimes scant marks to indicate crowds.


Bazille (early-Impressionist)
Manet (r/i)




‘Impressionism developed in France in the nineteenth century and is based on the practice of painting out of doors and spontaneously ‘on the spot’ rather than in a studio from sketches. Main impressionist subjects were landscapes and scenes of everyday life’ (Tate)


Monet (regarded as founder of Impressionism)
Mary Cassatt – American impressionist
Berthe Morisot