Realism is a 20th century art movement which took a diverse approach to representing the figure, yet has being ongoing from around the 18th century. It depicted what was happening in a contemporary way, an attempt to define what was real with no bias or personal preference from the artist. Only portraying what they saw. The movement originated in france in the 1850’s after the 1848 revolution. These Realists positioned themselves against Romanticism, a genre dominating French literature and artwork in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Seeking to be undistorted by personal bias, Realism believed in the ideology of objective reality and revolted against the exaggerated emotionalism of the Romantic movement. Truth and accuracy became the goals of many Realists. Many paintings depicted people at work, underscoring the changes wrought by the Industrial and Commercial Revolutions.Order now
The popularity of such ‘realistic’ works grew with the introduction of photography, a new visual source that created a desire for people to produce representations which look “objectively real. ” Thereafter this new approach to representing the figure grew and new forms such as American realism and social realism where introduced to the art world. Therefore in view of this i will be looking at the American realist Edward Hopper and the realist painter Lucian Freud. Both these artists where at the forefront of moder art and both took different approaches to representing the figure even though both are classed under the same title of realists.
Edward Hopper was an American realist, who sought to portray American urban and rural life during a period of hard times. Although he has been given the title of a realist his artistic style does not completely comply with his soft approach and simplified details, thus he is depicting what is there but in a slightly altered style. He is known for his effective use of light and shadow which allows him to create a mood in many of his pieces which is pivotal as his figures are often motionless and lost for an expression.
As portrayed in ‘Chop Seuy’ 1929. This composition depicts two women sitting in a restaurant with no expression upon there faces. But the mood of loneliness and isolation is shown through Hoppers use of light which comes glaring through a solitary window upon them. The technique used for this painting is what made Hopper so distinctive and famous for example his use of soft tones, well mixed using his preferred medium of oil paint with high contrasting shadows to further highlight and intensify the figure and the idea of isolation and solitude. He’s also payed particular attention to geometric design and architecture making sure everything is what he saw to the correct angle but painted in his own style.
Thus portraying another approach to representing the figure through a realist view with subtle changes to the technique. This is also evident in one of his later pieces ‘Nighthawk’ in 1942. It shows customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. The shapes and diagonals are carefully constructed. The viewpoint is cinematic from the sidewalk, as if the viewer were approaching the restaurant. The diner’s harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, enhancing the mood and subtle emotion. As in many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal.
The restaurant depicted was inspired by one in Greenwich Village. Both Hopper and his wife posed for the figures shown. the dark and depressing background was to highlight the mood of america at this time as it was during the height of WW2 with Pearl Harbour just being bombed and many Americans were shocked and feeling vulnerable and lonely which is portrayed through this painting as being a realist painter Hopper portrayed what he saw with no bias to the work. Hence taking a different approach to art movements such as Expressionism and therefore representing the figure in a different way as well by using the background and surroundings to help depict there expression. Lucian Freud of whom has been labelled as a realist mainly for he realistic tones and depictions but can such a unique style really be defined.
For example he has been associated with German Expressionism although he has denied it many times. With his thickly applied paint being layered and unblended, the large brush strokes clearly visible and painted in a way to give the figure both shape and movement. Yet unlike German Expressionism his tones are very muted and flesh tones very realistic often cleaning the brush after each stroke so the colours remained constantly variable. the background often very dull and bland in his paintings to intensify the flesh tones upon the figure.
His paintings often depict only the sitter either sprawled naked or juxtaposed with something else as ‘Girl with a white dog’. Freuds realistic but unique style is best portrayed in ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping’ 1995. Where he depicts a large women sleeping on a sofa from a typically high view point as he stands when painting but it also shows his thick large brush strokes using colours – bruise blue, livid orange, morbid green, the irradiated red of chafed thighs, the silver of stretch marks – gave substance to the body, but also to the life of the painting. His magnificent brush marks are increasingly gritty, nubbled and thick and describe the sitter so much as Freud’s ever-changing vision of what could be done with pigment. Yet even with this style the overall piece seems so realistic and detailed thus showing us a different approach to representing the figure.
This is also apparent in his portrait of the queen which came under scrutiny for its look and portrayal as it was not the most flattering of portraits especially one to give the the queen but it does show Freuds commitment and value to his style. Nevertheless despite criticism it was recognized as a honest representation and giving a real depiction of the monarch which as a realist painter was Freuds job. As it highlights the wrinkles with the use of brush marks and dark contrasting shadows as well as light reds to really give the flesh some definition and color maybe nit flattering but realistic.
The painting was seen as honest and as conveying something true about the Queen’s long service, experience and devotion to duty. Perhaps it was a little too severe in its naturalism. In his effort, I take it, to convey a psychological reality, Freud has stripped the Queen of anything that’s elegant or romantic or pretty. She looks grim and solid and her face appears to have the texture of putty. But then he is a realist and possibly the greatest british painter, thus showing a diverse approach to representing the figure. However both Hopper and Freud have given us new approaches to represent the figure in, both different in composition and technique. Yet still providing us with a realist approach and outcome, and providing us with another range of artists of whom can be copied and built upon, leaving us with a wide range of ways to depict the figure and face.