Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait often inspires observations of the realistic technique and meticulous detail as well as a vague notion that the objects and setting have some sort of symbolic meaning. There is no doubt that van Eyck used an exceptionally complex method of painting, as each layer of translucent glaze explored oil as a new and revolutionary medium. However, in his book Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism, Craig Harbison suggests that the immediate association with realism as the aim of the artist is a modern notion based on the anticipation of the movement of Realism in the nineteenth century. But even van Eyck’s reality is “selective,” as Harbison calls it, and is not simply a direct translation of contemporary life and belief.
Courbet was known to promote Realism as the pursuit of a “truthful” representation of everyday life, and he seemed to thrive from the criticism of his contemporaries, saying that “it is impossible to tell you all the insults my painting of this year has won me, but I don’t care, for when I am no longer controversial I will no longer be important.”
If the amount of realism is measured by the time devoted to one painting, John Everett Millais’ Ophelia would be worth admiring. It took him five months of working six days a week for up to eleven hours each day to finish this work, as he sought to depict the detailed descriptions of Shakespeare’s character. For much more about it, please visit: Ten-things-you-never-knew-about-Ophelia
Perhaps your preferred brand of realism is the inherent abstraction in watery impressions of light reflecting on water.
Monet painted about 250 portraits of his garden in Giverny, seeking to capture the infinite and intangible variations of atmosphere.
Atonement costume designer Jacqueline Durran • Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet • Tracy Reese Spring 2009 at Fashion Week
Lempicka’s Young Girl with Gloves evokes that magnetic impression of pop culture that, over time, disintegrates into a geometric arrangement of form and shade. Nonetheless, every smooth fold of her green dress seems somehow relevant to the present, though the abstraction will always keep us guessing.
* the title comes from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Act I