Modern Realism

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The Shock of the Modern is an appropriate way to describe the changes occurring in art and society during the 19th and 20th centuries. Various social, political and economic changes would drastically challenge artistic conventions that had been in place since the Renaissance. The period between 1850-1970 saw dramatic changes and revolution in the production and history of art. The art world would be exposed to juxtapositions between both tradition and modernity and the idealized and realistic. Associated with academic art and controlled by a conservative committee, the conventional Salon was the major traditional exhibition venue in Paris, matched only by the Royal Academy in Britain. The hierarchical nature of art at the time meant historical …show more content…
Realism was a mid 19th century art movement led by Gustave Courbet. It directly challenged the traditional conventions of academic art. Considered the father of Realism, he was an inspiration for many artists who would follow in Courbet’s defiance of artistic tradition. Specifically, realism sought to reject the idealized nature of painting and sculpture, in favor of a more realistic portrayal. Realists sought to portray contemporary life and real everyday situations, disregarding class hierarchy. As a direct reaction against the authoritarian Salon, Courbet ‘propelled political change by challenging the existing institutional relationship between art and the public’ (Eisenman, 260). Two of his most famous works, Burial at Ornans and The Stonebreakers were exhibited at the 1850-1851 Salon exhibition.

Burial at Ornans was shocking because of its subject matter, large scale and unflattering realism. The scale of the painting (previously reserved for historical/religious paintings) shocked many of the visitors to the 1850 Salon exhibition. Other than scale and subject matter, various Salon conventions were broken in this work, such as the extension out of the frame, the use of earthen, somber colors and the appearance of the cross and clergy, despite no sense of religious afterlife or ascension. The Stonebreakers similarly challenged convention as it portrayed peasants in a working class
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Olympia could be considered as the work that produced the most shock in the European art world. Presenting a modern contrast to Cabanel’s typical Salon work The Birth of Venus, Olympia portrays an idealized nude figure, engaging directly with the viewer to create a sense of confrontation. By using techniques from Renaissance art and a title that references classical mythology, Manet’s rebellion against the Salon was clear. Other than the ‘shock of total female nakedness’ Olympia (a common name for prostitutes – a detail which would not have been lost on gallery goers) was a confronting figure (Rosenblum and Janson, 291). She is outlined in black and her skin is slightly yellowed, a factor that led to her being described as a ‘gorilla’ when exhibited at the salon. Manet intentionally included certain elements in the work, such as the placement of the cat at the foot of the bed (a symbol of promiscuity). The figure, who has both shoes and jewelry on is seen to be ‘naked’ rather than nude. Manet painted unidealized Olympia as a reaction against traditional Salon works and the idealized nude that was the academic norm.

Manet’s ‘most notorious’ work, Dejeuner sur l’herbe garnered a similar reaction, portraying a nude engaging with the viewer in a modern setting (Rosenblum and Janson, 290). Building upon Courbet’s realism, Manet continued to produce works that challenged

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