American Realism in Art

In terms of American realism, it had been received quite well in the United States. The subject matter present in American realism was very specific to the United States, hence why it had that name. The most well known of the American realists was Winslow Homer. Some of his well known pieces dealt with the civil war.

 “Veteran in a New Field”

Homer’s 1865 piece titled, “Veteran in a New Field” showcased a quite simple scene with a farmer threshing grain to gather together.

Scholars had suspected that this was more than just a simple scene, they believed he was creating a social commentary on the civil war. In the lower right hand corner of the image, a canteen and a uniform is displayed indicating he used to be a soldier who later became a farmer. The subject was vital to the United States during this period because people were worried what soldiers would do after the war and if they could re enter civilian life without disruption.

Homer created this image to reassure there is a possibility for them to go back to a normal life. This work is also about death because the man holds a scythe which is common for grim reapers to have. Scholars believe it’s a memorial picture to all the soldiers who died in the civil war while others suspect that it might be a lamentation to the assassinated president Lincoln.

“The Gross Clinic”

Another art piece was the 1875 work titled, “The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins.

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Eakins was an artist whose work represented his hunger for capturing the realities of the human experience and believed science was a necessity. Even though he was more into realism than Homer, it is later noted that he had works which weren’t really perceived as art although realism was a way to create images. Eakins had refused to sacrifice his realism for symbolic content while Homer was known to display symbolic content. His goal was to paint things as he witnessed them rather than as the public would prefer them to be portrayed. This method he used aligned well with the taste of 19th century Americans. His piece showed the too-brutal realism of a medical college operating amphitheatre in Philadelphia. It portrayed Dr. Samuel Gross who was a renowned surgeon during that period. Due to the nature of the piece, an art jury rejected it from being displayed at a Philadelphia exhibition. Eakin’s decision to showcase an surgery in progress demonstrated the public’s growing faith that scientific and medical advances could preserve lives. The painting illustrates a reality that many viewers couldn’t handle observing. Eakins believed careful observation and scientific knowledge were an essential part of his art. He also believed that science was necessary in order for his art to be successful which related to empiricism in the 19th century. In the “gross clinic” Eakins wanted to capture a sense of what America was like when their fascination with medical science at the time was huge as well as giving us a sense of the status of Dr. Gross. The image is quite brutal and combines Eakin’s interest in painting and medical science. As this image is observed, one of the biggest takeaways is that it gives us a sense of medical practices in 1875.

“The Thankful Poor”

Another art piece that reflected on American realism was an 1894 piece titled, “The Thankful Poor” by Henry Ossawa Tanner. What set Tanner apart from other realist artists was the fact that he was an African American artist who portrayed that identity in his artwork. The mood in this piece offers a sense of quiet devotion as well as a focus on the main subject since the background is distorted. He used expressive lighting to focus on the image itself. Tanner had painted a grandfather and his grandchild sitting together at a dinner table. The main objects in the room are highlighted in strong detail, while everything in the background is faded into loose strokes of color and light. A profound sense of sanctity illuminated in this image of everyday experience became quite significant for Tanner. The depiction of African Americans observed a very specific American subject matter that allows us to witness another side of American realism.

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American Realism in Art. (2022, Feb 03). Retrieved from

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