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Realism in the nineteenth century

  or the consequences for the visual arts of a new relationship with reality

1 Ornans Enterrement.jpg
Courbet and politics

The adjective realist is applied to works as diverse as Roman statuary, Renaissance painting, Constructivist sculpture and New Realist assemblages. Given the plasticity of the term, Positivist Realism needs to be defined.

Realism in the nineteenth century

L'enfant du positivisme triomphant

Contexte philosophique et intellectuel

Styles et sujets réalistes 

a political painter?

1. The possibilities of Realism

Intellectual and philosophical context

How did the nineteenth-century positivists manage their relationship with reality? A position to be compared with that of the Platonists and the post-structuralists.

3. Representations of death

Dead bodies

Since the Realist credo was that only the observed could be treated, the supernatural was excluded from the list of possible subjects. As a result, religious painting concentrated on depictions of worship rather than the divine, and a new genre, the depiction of death, emerged, characterised by an almost medical approach to human finitude.

4. Get with the times!

The realists' battle cry as an imperative for modernisation


A correlation table with two variables, subject and style, can schematise the problem raised by being or not being of one's time: the subject will be ancient or contemporary and the style academic or realistic.  

If the subject is ancient and the style realistic, the painting is a photographic and archaeological reconstruction of scenes from an unobservable past. Conversely, if the subject is contemporary and the style is academic, painting or sculpture seem inappropriate.

Readings Linda Nochlin, Realism, Style and Civilisation, Penguin books, 1973

Iconographic study

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