Realism, in painting and the other arts, is the rejection of the idealization of the subject being represented. Instead, realist painters sought to portray nature or humanity as accurately as possible. Some of the main driving forces behind the rise of realism were the development of journalism as a profession, which strove to depict people and current events in an objective and realistic manner, and the invention of the camera and its exact duplication of an image.
Though there were numerous prolific and influential realist painters in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, three of the most prominent were Gustave Corbert, Marie Rosalie Bonheur and Wilhelm Leibl. Corbert is sometimes considered the father of realism and sought to depict people within every social class in a realistic fashion. Bonheur focused on animals and landscapes and was one of the few prominent female artists of the time. Leibl chose his immediate surroundings as his subject and sought to reflect them as realistically as possible, with emotional embellishment.
Underpainting was, and remains, one of the foundational techniques of the realist painting process. Underpainting is the creation of a complete painting in a neutral color using oils or tempera. This skeletal version of the final painting gives the artist a general path to follow while completing the work. Colors are added to the piece, layer by layer, directly over the underpainting until the work is complete. This technique gives modern realist depictions an "Old World" quality as it was widely used by the original realist masters.
Like underpainting, glazing is one of the most common techniques when recreating the style of the original realist painters. Glazing involves the application of a transparent paint layer, usually acetate, to a dried underpainting. Glazing was initially used to add depth to the limited number of pigments available to early realist painters. It also allowed for the creation of realistic hues and other special effects that enhanced the realism of the piece.
Scumbling is a technique similar to glazing but involves the application of a light, opaque paint instead of a transparent film. Scumbling is often used to add a layer of depth to darker paints by applying a lighter color to blend and mix with the darker color. The technique adds a haziness to the affected area and aids in creating smooth transitions from light to dark, or simply to change the color of an area. The effect is generally achieved by scraping or scrubbing the lighter paint over the target area.
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