European realism vs. American realism

European realism vs. American realism
Isabel del Rio

Art Movements: Realism in art, the old versus the new world, Europe against America

Third Class Wagon, by Daumier

Art Movements: Third Class Wagon, by Daumier

“Realism” was that artistic movement which tried to reflect the true life of ordinary people. Then, it engaged with social problems and with the habits and ways of life of most people of a determinate country or culture.

However, we have to study separately “European realism” and “American realism” because although they had similar objectives, they have chronological differences and, as result, differences in their main topics.

Older Realism appeared in Europe (first in France) after Romanticism art movement.

The idealistic Romantic time, even in its dark reflections, was a reaction against Napoleon (the son of the Enlightenment) and peaked in the European nationalist revolutions of 1820 (when Lord Byron died while fighting in favor of the independence of Greece) and 1830 (when Italy or Germany began to feel as a nation). However, eighteen years later, Marx and Bakunin had a voice and workers of the big factories were organized. At that time, artists as Daumier (“Third Class Wagon”) or Courbet (“Ornans Burial”) decided to reflect in their artworks the reality of mass people. And it was a hard reality, with workers fighting for the 8-hour workday and hungry orphan children. This “Realism” spread throughout Europe as industrialization progressed. Then, it arrived at the Mediterranean countries later. One of my favorite artists is Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931) and he is Realist although he lived in the 20th century.

European realism vs. American realism. Morphine, by Santiago Rusinol

Morphine, by Santiago Rusinol

“Realism” was also a very important movement in the United States, but in the early 20th century. At that moment, American society had a better way of life (even immigrants) than that of the European industrialization and the topics reflected by artists were not so hard. They reflected the busy life of the great cities (especially New York: Ashcan School) and the loneliness of people in those anonymous concentrations of skyscrapers and offices, but never famine or misery, because when it arrived Wall Street Crash of 1929, “Realism” was almost finished and it was Expressionism and Abstract art the triumphant movements.

Among American authors we must speak:

-George Bellows (1882–1925). He painted New York City and had a fascination with violence “Both Members of this Club.”

-Robert Henri (1865–1921). He was interested in the spectacle of common life focusing on individuals, strangers, quickly passing in the streets in towns and cities.

-Everett Shinn (1876–1953). He painted theater scenes from London, Paris and New York. He found interest in the urban spectacle of life, drawing parallels between the theater and crowded seats and life.

Art Movements: Third Class Wagon, by Daumier

Art Movements: Third Class Wagon, by Daumier

-George B. Luks (1866–1933). He painted and lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He looks for the joy and beauty in the life of the poor rather than the tragedy: “Spielers”.

-William Glackens (1870–1938) painted the neighborhood surrounding his studio in Washington Square Park.

-John Sloan (1871–1951). Although he was socialist, he disliked propaganda, and in his drawings and paintings, he focused on the everyday lives of people emphasizing the leisure of the working class.

-and Edward Hopper (1882–1967). The most modern of the American realists, and the most famous.

More art movements?

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