In its various forms, Realism comprises an attempt to find an aesthetic that is true to life. This exhibition, drawn entirely from the AMAM’s collection, explores the various approaches undertaken by Realist artists from the 19th to the mid-20th centuries, in the name of achieving an aesthetic that would faithfully represent the contemporary world. The Realist movement first achieved cohesion in mid-19th century France, where artists began to undermine what they perceived as the contrived artistic practices of the French Academy. Championing subjects that found inspiration in the ambient world rather than in classical tradition, these artists aimed to frankly portray France’s natural landscape, working classes, and rural society.
The trends first set in motion by French artists reverberated throughout the rest of Europe, reaching areas such as The Hague, where artists created naturalistic paintings of the Dutch landscape. The achievements of European Realists effectively broadened the subject matter and techniques deemed suitable for artistic representation, setting the stage for the experimental works of Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists of subsequent generations.
Across the Atlantic, 19th-century American artists also expressed realistic tendencies, creating detailed landscape studies and minutely rendered still lifes. Later manifestations of Realism found form in the works of American Regionalist artists, who depicted everyday life in the Midwest, as well as in the works of the Ashcan School and urban realists, who recorded the gritty, often unappealing realities of American city life.
Whether by practicing direct observation from life, depicting accessible subjects, or portraying various social realities, the artists in this exhibition shared a common goal of representing the modern world. The various techniques, subjects, and practices used reflect not only the complexity of contemporary life, but also the enormity of their artistic project.