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Realism in 19th-Century French Painting

The Modern Era Begins

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, March 10, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2180
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$30 - Member
$35 - Non-Member
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"The Chess Players" by Honoré Daumier, 1863–67

In mid-19th-century France, the important political, philosophical, economic, and cultural changes sweeping through Europe weren’t lost on that nation’s artists. Many painters rejected idealized classicism and romanticism, dominant in European art since the late 1700s, and began creating art that reflected what they saw around them in the modern world.

This style, championed by controversial French painter Gustave Courbet among others, became known as realism. It focused on ordinary individuals engaged in seemingly mundane activities. But it forced the Salon audiences to look at the lives of poor, working-class individuals.  Printmaker and painter Honoré Daumier took realism even further, producing wicked political and social satire—and paying a price for his audacity: a fine and time in jail. 

Art historian Nancy G. Heller examines the evolution, significance, and later influence of French realism. The emphasis is on painting, but Heller also considers parallel developments in sculpture by Jules Dalou and Auguste Rodin, the photography of Nadar, and related developments in French literature, as well as the rise of Socialism. She also goes beyond France to consider realism’s emergence in Germany, Italy, and especially the United States, where realism informed the work of Thomas Eakins and members of the so-called Ash Can School, including John Sloan, George Bellows, and Abastenia St. Leger Eberle.

Heller is professor emerita at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.

This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.