The last quarter of the 19th century saw Naturalism become one of the dominant movements in painting. This photographic style transcended national borders, and fanned out throughout all of Europe and the United States. The themes were drawn from daily ‘modern’ life: labourers, farmers, the affluent middle classes; all layers of society served as subjects.
This exposition sheds light on the various aspects of Naturalism: its themes, painting practice and the response of critics and the public. More than fifty works, many of which are extremely large, will be on display in the exhibition wing of the Van Gogh Museum.
Naturalism in painting focused on subjects from the daily lives of ordinary people. Artists tried to approximate reality as closely as possible, and made frequent use of photography. These compositions, which were sometimes commissioned by the government, were exhibited at the Salon and World’s Fairs. Most, due to their large size, were sent to museums or exhibited in public spaces such as town halls or schools.
The central themes within Naturalism include labour (in the country, in cities, and in industry), religion, and youth. The painters often used simple peasants as their subject material, or the hard life of workers in the cities. The style of painting was particularly detailed, and the works have the appearance of snapshots of real life. Yet the subjects of these paintings were carefully composed and were meant to tell a story, sometimes with a moralistic message. These themes were often the same ones as those already described by the writer Émile Zola in his Naturalist novels and plays.
The exhibition also shows several film fragments based on the literature of Zola. These fragments illustrate the close interrelation with the Naturalist paintings, which seem to come alive as a result.
With Illusions of reality: Naturalist painting, photography and cinema 1875–1918 the Van Gogh Museum presents the first retrospective exhibition on Naturalism.
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