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The difference between Naturalism & Realism painting, is twofold. In contrast, naturalism is all about “how” a subject is painted, rather than “who” or “what” it is. Second, Realism is typically associated with the promotion of social or political awareness.

Main Difference:

The main difference between the 2 is, Realism aims at representing real life and Naturalism aims at representing life more scientifically & clinically.

Realism vs. Naturalism

  • Realism is a literary movement that is characterised by the representation of real life. Naturalism is an outgrowth of reaction that is influenced by scientific theories.

  • Realism portrays the everyday life of a common or ordinary people. Naturalism portrays how hereditary environment and social conditions control human beings.

  • Realism depicts the realities of middle-class characters. Naturalism depicts the lower-class character.

  • Realistic novels deal with the themes of violence, corruption, poverty, prostitutions, etc. realism sought to be an honest and faithful representation of life. Naturalism proceeded from realism and can be seen as an exaggerated form of realism. It shows human being as beings determined by their environment, hereditary and social conditions which are beyond their control. Thus, human beings are helpless to escape their circumstances.

  • In realism, the main focus is on the middle-class and its problems. Naturalism deals with thing like poorly educated or lower-class characters.

  • In realism main focus is on the faithful representation of reality including the details of nature. In naturalism, nature itself is a powerful force having an indifferent mechanism.

  • Realism was all about real life and the presentation of familiar subjects as they were. Naturalism was a literary movement that added a scientific aspect to the literary aspects.

  • Realism dealt with an account of the everyday goings-on of the middle and lower classes of the society. Naturalism focused on the darker topics that involved the lives of the common man, including the topics prostitution, violence, corruption and vice.

Let us now understand Realism & Naturalism in depth.

What is Realism?

Realism is a literary movement which began in the middle of the 19th Century in France and spread across Europe. This movement is defined as a reaction against Romanticism. Realism depicts ordinary people in everyday situations. It depicted realistic events that could happen to anyone in real life. Realism portrays realistic life without any fake-ness, idealising, flattering or romanticising. Realism movement broke the convention by portraying characters that belong to working classes. Realism movement introduced a writing style where there were no great heroes. The protagonist was ordinary characters with whom the audience can identify and relate. Realism paid great attention to detail as it was necessary to create a realistic effect and feel the language was in the literature during the realistic periods was ordinary and common to render the texts more believable and realistic. Realism was an attempt to describe situations as they might describe situations as they might occur. Realism is a response to romanticism which had previously been the dominant literary aesthetic. Literary realism coincided with big cultural changes in Europe and America, like industrialisation and the emergence of the middle-class.


  • Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

  • Ibsen’s Doll’s and Peace

  • Dicken’s Great Expectations

  • Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure

What is Naturalism?

Naturalism is a logical outgrowth of realism and can be considered as an exaggerated form of realism. Naturalism used detailed realism to propose that social conditions, heredity and environment were the 3 main forces in shaping human characters. Naturalism was largely influenced by the theories of Charles Darwin and naturalistic authors that attempted to apply scientific theories to literature. Therefore, they took a detached and clinical tone. Naturalism often portrayed middle-class or lower-class characters. The main themes of naturalism involved violence and taboo activism. Naturalistic novels are particularly pessimistic. The literal work of the French novelist Emile Zola is considered to be the origins of the Naturalistic movement. Naturalism focused on determinism, or the inability of human beings to resist the biological, social and economic forces that control their behavior and their fate. Naturalism is usually considered to be an outgrowth of realism in its pursuits of realistic depictions, but naturalistic fiction was more.


  • Les Rougon-Macquet Stephen Crane’s Maggie

  • A Girl of the Streets

  • Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”

  • John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”  


Realism and Naturalism are both largely 19century movements, although Naturalism’s roots stretched back several centuries. Emerging around mid-century in France, they later spread through Europe and America. Realism and Naturalism were responses to romanticism, and its concentration on the portrayal of emotions. Realism and Naturalism, by contrast aimed to portray realistic, accurate views of life and landscapes. While the two movements had similar values, there are some key difference in their approach.

Realist Values:

Realism was an attempt to portray the lives of ordinary people and their environment. Romantic and Renaissance painters had tended to focus on idealised subjects and situations. Realists painted people as they were painting, rather than adding a layer of interpretation. The movement was partly a response to the social change brought about by the Industrial Revolution. According to Art Encyclopedia, they often sought to depict subject matter that many in the establishment found uncomfortable, including gritty street scenes, nudity and sex.

Naturalists Values:

The naturalists aimed to paint natural life as accurately as possible. Like the realists, they aim to show reality rather than the interpretation. Naturalists paintings are very detailed, as details increased the accuracy of the painting. Naturalists were heavily influenced by Darwinian ideas about the strength of nature, and the lack g ability f humans to combat the forces of nature. Like realism, naturalism was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and their Darwinian attitudes reflected this. They rejected contemporary ideas that technology could overcome nature.

Difference in Approach:

The 2 movements have similar core values. They both aim to show things as they actually are, rather than to interpret subject matter, with naturalists concentrating mostly on landscapes painting, while realists more often depict people. Naturalists also work from a scientific view of the world, with human beings being seen as part of nature and subject to its forces. Realists see humans experience as more important.

Schools & Forms: - Distinct groups of realists and naturalists’ artist grew into schools both in France and elsewhere. The most famous naturalist school was Barbizon in France, where artists gathered to paint the French countryside. Realism began in Paris and remained more urban. Over time, both realism and naturalism influenced other artistic movements. Impressionism was heavily influenced by realism and naturalism and shared their use of ordinary people and places as subject matter.

Similarities and Dissimilarities:

While being two separate literary movements, realism and naturalism have been at times used as interchangeable terms, sharing some deep-running similarities.

  • They are both “basic” views of life and humanity stripping away the layers of romanticism to present a “natural” or “real” outlook of the work. They refuse to idealise or flatter the subject. They avoid artificial, fantasy, or supernatural elements.

  • Both of these pessimistic vies emerged in the 19th Century, a period known for its trials and turmoil.

  • God is absent from most of the writing in either category, with writers opting for a focus on the real world.

  • Naturalism is usually associated with plein air practice. This is when people will paint the scenery around them outside as it immerses the artist in the scene around them. Realism is a style of art where the artist intends the piece to be as realistic as possible

But despite these similarities, these two literary movements are separate for a reason.

  • Realism sought to be a faithful representation of life, while naturalism was more like a “chronicle of despair”. Ina way, naturalism proceeded from realism, and can be seen as an exaggerated form of realism; it shows humans as beings determined by environment, heredity and social conditions beyond their control and thus rather helpless to escape their circumstances.

  • While in realism the main focus was on the middle-class and its problems, naturalism often focused on poorly educated or lower case characters, and on themes involving violence and taboo activities.

  • While in realism, faithful representation of reality including the details of nature is important, in Naturalism, nature itself is a force, generally a powerful indifferent mechanism.

So, to conclude Realism and Naturalism are two separate literary movements that are closely linked, with a significant difference between them, both movements portray “life as it is.”

Famous Realism Artists:

  • Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)

  • Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

  • Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)

  • Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875)

  • Adolph Menzel (1815-1905)

  • Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

Famous Naturalism Artists:

  • Jules Bastein Lepage (1848-1884)

  • Albert Beirstadt (1880-1902)

  • Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)

  • Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893)

  • Fredric Edwin Church (1826-1900)

  • Thomas Cole (1801-1848)


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