“realism: In the visual arts, an aesthetic that promotes accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favor of close observation of outward appearances. It was a dominant current in French art between 1850 and 1880. In the early 1830s, the painters of the Barbizon school espoused realism in their faithful reproduction of the landscape near their village. Gustave Courbet was the first artist to proclaim and practice the realist aesthetic; his Burial at Ornans and The Stone Breakers (1849) shocked the public and critics with their frank depiction of peasants and laborers. In his satirical caricatures, Honore Daumier used an energetic linear style to criticize the immorality he saw in French society. Realism emerged in the U.S. in the work of Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. In the 20th century, German artists associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit worked in a realist style to express their disillusionment after World War I. The Depression-era movement known as Social Realism adopted a similar harsh realism to depict the injustices of U.S. society. See also naturalism.
Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.