realism, in art, the movement of the mid-19th cent. formed in reaction against the severely academic production of the French school. Realist painters sought to portray what they saw without idealizing it, choosing their subjects from the commonplaces of everyday life. Major realists included Gustave Courbet, J. F. Millet, and Honoré Daumier. In a broader sense the term is applied to an unembellished rendering of natural forms. In recent years realism has come to mean the presentation of forms and materials that are simply themselves, not primarily representations of things that already exist.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.