Realist Painting Style and Realism Term Paper

Pages: 12 (3561 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 13  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

Honore Daumier

The Third-Class Carriage


Oil on canvas

25 3/4 x 35 1/2 in. (65.4 x 90.2 cm)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

One is simply tempted to say, "Holy cow! Is that woman nursing a baby on a train? Holy cow!" In some parts of the U.S. even today, this would be a difficult picture to hang. And yet, in its own time, it was probably far more common for a woman to nurse in public -- at least, a working-class woman -- than it is today. But depicting it was another matter entirely. In the depiction, however, the nature of French society in the 1860s is explained in detail. The mother looks down lovingly at the baby. The woman beside her is lost in her own thoughts; the boy beside her sleep. In the background, people are going about their own business, talking, arguing, gazing at the passing scenery. One figure, far left, looks as if he might be looking over his shoulder, looking askance, at what the woman is doing. In fact, he is one of the few 'toffs' in the painting, with his top hat and stiff posture. While it is an oil painting, it also borrows much from the line work of lithography. Indeed, it is a departure in technique, a blending of painting with drawing.

It is yet another step beyond Courbet in terms of removal from classical technique in that respect. While Millet's work is far broader in concept, construction and execution than Courbet's, Daumier's is still broader in concept, still more expansive in construction/composition, and still more 'modern' in execution.

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The attitudes of the Realists toward workers is far different from out attitude today. While nominally, Americans seem to value the 'common man,' in fact, we spend most of our time trying to become anything but, or at least, engaging in watching 'reality shows' that are no more than dreams of a better condition vicariously experienced. As far as our art, it is rare -- at least since the end of the Ashcan School, to see anything remotely resembling the worker extolled in art. And even for the Ashcan School, it was the industry itself that was paramount.

Term Paper on Realist Painting Style and Realism Assignment

The ideas of the Realists related directly to the results of the 1848 Revolution. That event centered on the refusal of Louis Philippe to restore universal suffrage and other elitist matters. When his regime fell, creating the Second Republic, universal suffrage was restored. Nine million Frenchmen could suddenly take part in the direct election of deputies to the Constituent Assembly. A previous experiment in electoral democracy had not resulted in much voter turnout; after 1848, that changed. (Crook, 1993) As a result of the Second Republic, a new liberal spirit began to affect the arts as well, and for the first time, the Salon held its exhibition in the Tuileries gardens adjoining the Louvre. In 1849, Courbet exhibited there to both critical and public acclaim. (Nelepets Web site)

The industrial revolution, particularly in France, was a combination of industrialization and scientific ideas.

Lavoisier built a solar furnace, even before the Revolution, using extreme hat to break down materials. Bequerel produced the first solar electric cell, and Mouchot and Pifre patented a solar-powered steam engine. Among the most influential of these for artists would have been the invention of the Daguerreotype. Niepce actually preceded Louis Daguerre, making a photograph on metal as early as 1826. When Daguerre made the process easier and more affordable, it allowed those who could not afford an artist's portrait to preserve likenesses. (Dorozynski, 1989)

The art market, by the time the Realists arrived, had become one in which the bourgeoisie was buying paintings, rather than simply the well heeled. Doctors and lawyers were buyers. And those who championed the Revolution would also have championed this art. Those who didn't buy it were the academicians; the French Academy, as it habitually did with all rising genres, ignored it at best.


There is no question that these three artists were immensely important to the development of Realism; it is only fitting to know something about how they came to their convictions.

Gustave Courbet (1819-77)

Courbet was born to prosperous farmers in the small, lovely town of Ornans. He was educated, although he was disinterested in academics. When he was 20, in 1839, Courbet moved to Paris, deciding to become a painter. He studied with Steuben and Hesse and spend time studying Dutch landscapes in the Louvre. He was likely influenced by his literary contemporaries, Balzac and Stendahl, who were working in Realism. (Roughton Galleries Web site)

Courbet was a combative painter, becoming involved in the political turmoil of the times. He argued with his critics at the Salon, and he attempted to establish independent exhibitions. (Roughton Galleries Web site) He was also very vain, and hated all authority. He taunted authority, in fact, and was delighted when Napoleon II, enraged at one of Courbet's female nude statues, struck at it with his riding crop. (Julius, 1993)

In the political side of his life, in the 1870s, he was named chairman of France's Arts Commission. When the Communists came to power, however, he was charged with allowing destruction of several major artworks. To avoid the costs of reparation, he fled to Switzerland where he became ill and died. (Roughton Galleries Web site)

Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875)

Millet was born into a successful landowning family at Gruchy, and studied as a youth in Cherbourg with a local painter, and later with Langlois. He also worked in the Paris studio of Pal Delaroche from 1837 to 1840, returning to Cherbourg the next year as a portraitist.

His first wife died of consumption in 1844, and he moved to LeHavre in 1845, and then to Paris, bringing with him Catherine Lemaire, a domestic servant who could not read or write. As Millet's companion, she bore nine children between 1846 and 1863; they were married in a civil ceremony in 1853 and in a religious one seventeen days before Millet's death in 1875.

After the Revolution of 1848, Millet had become interested in peasant scenes and the stoicism it allowed him to portray. Much of the time, Millet worked in squalor, with Boston painter William Morris Hunt at one point buying almost everything Millet had on hand to help him out. Finally, working on pastels commission by wealthy architect Emile Gavet helped him turn the financial corner and he became financially independent, even earning the Legion d'Honneur in 1868.

Honore Daumier (1808-1879)

Daumier was the son of a Marseilles glazier, moving to Paris with his family in 186. He studied lithography under Lenoir, and began to contribute cartoons to a weekly, Caricature. (Columbia Encyclopedia, 2004) He was jailed for seventy days in Sainte-Pelagie prison in 1832 for depicting King Louis-Philippe as the "Rabelaisian glutton Gargantua, excreting political privileges on his 'throne'." This did not dampen his enthusiasm for political cartooning and he would aim his art at enemies of republican ideas whenever censorship allowed. (Dolan, 1998)

His work was bitterly ironic, and ridiculed bourgeois society. He painted about 200 small canvases as well as creating almost 4,000 lithographs. In his later years, he began to grow blind and was not well off financially either. Corot loaned him a small cottage in which he died. (Columbia Encyclopedia, 2004)

Realist and revolutionary

Courbet, as noted, was the painter most likely to succeed, from a technical standpoint, bridging the gap between technique and the new philosophies.

Courbet, Gustave

Burial at Ornans


Oil on canvas

10" 3 1/2" x 21' 9" (314 x 663 cm)

Musee d'Orsay, Paris

My Studio

Courbet's Burial at Ornans displays the whole of French society in a single, sweeping central band of humanity, with clergy and laypeople intermingling, and even dogs underfoot. One of the clergy carries a crucifix, elegant in its detail of suffering, and possibly allegorical for what the worker has suffered. Or possibly not. This crowd does not seem to be particularly impoverished or stressed from anything except the death. On the other hand, it clearly is not a noble crowd either, with only one obviously noble character portrayed.

My studio" also makes use of a central swath of figures, but these are infinitely more varied, and conceivably are figures from every part of Courbet's own life. Again, there are animals. And again, no one looks to be particularly distressed.

The paintings are Realist in that their subject matter has descended from the heights of the nobility to the broad expanse of the ordinary. They are revolutionary in that they portray everyday lives of ordinary people. And even in expressing death, it is not an idealized, classicized scene, but one anyone might see or be part of any day.

Both are non-hierarchical compositions. The relative importance of objects and figures in them is not dependent on any outward status or even on any need within the painting itself.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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