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Analysis of The Transition from Romanticism to Realism in Art

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At the end of the 18th century, a movement spread throughout the world known as the Romantic Era. The works of authors, artists and musicians were influenced by emotions and imagination. The characters in the literature during that period of time depend on the large extent of the impulses to guide them in their decisions. Whether it is the logical choice or not, they followed their hearts. The image that Romanticism created was a perfect and unrealistic lifestyle due to the adoration of the beauty of nature and human emotions. Although some romantic works ended in tragedy, it was due to the emotions we are powerful to feel. Romanticism promoted the idea that people would follow their hearts. This, however, gradually came to an end in the mid-19th century.

Queen Victoria’s reign began in 1937 and began to undergo numerous changes. Along with a new rule, a new movement came. This new era produced the Victorian period and coincided with realism. The Realism Movement was ‘a reaction against romantic and classical idealization and a rejection of classical academic subjects’. Therefore, realistic opinions became the focal point in works abroad. Music and literature became less romantic and more logical. Music in Russia was based more on his nation than before, and literature throughout the world promoted the new ways of thinking that flourished. Instead of focusing on issues of the romantic era, such as love, attention focused on everyday life and rational thinking. Due to the transition from romanticism to realism, literature and music from multiple different cultures became more logical instead of getting emotionally involved.

From the beginning of realism, literature became more of a challenge towards the previous era. ‘The romantics valued the creative imagination as the motive of inspired literature and as the potential means to completely reorient human culture’. The realists were almost the opposite; Emphasize the importance in truth within the home and within society. As an effect of dramatic changes in thinking, literature tended to convey the transformation of thought processes. It was demonstrated by contrasting some of the logical actions of the characters with the illogical behaviors of the other characters. The characters in the works obviously differ from others to represent the realists and romantics in a clear way. Some of the views of realistic opinions remarkably strong opinions on emotional matters. The romantics trusted love, even when it was not a positive quality. Therefore, in contrast to the romantics, the royalists avoided love because they were more worried about their own lives. The realistic characters brazenly point out and make fun of the silly forms of the romantic, exactly as he was doing this period of time.

When addressing problems with realistic and relatable situations, Henrik Ibsen was one of the authors who exhibited characters with opposite thoughts. His plays talk about abundant controversial issues that existed in that period of time, but were frowned upon. By writing about these issues in a pragmatic way, he tried to open the minds of society to those issues. At first, his works were rejected, but over time they were praised much more. A dollhouse, for example, was a stretch in the way of thinking about the Victorian era. The idea of a woman taking control and not being obedient to her wives was not acceptable. However, Ibsen raises this issue casually, but with an open symbolism. ‘His characteristic metaphors of corruption and contagion, together with the hangover violence in his works, informed by the disorders of nineteenth-century Europe, retain their relevance’ (Klein).

Several lessons from Ibsen’s work can be learned. Throughout A Doll’s House, it is clear that Nora’s husband treats her like a doll or even a girl. The husband’s role was to provide, and that of the wife was to raise the children. When Nora exceeded her limits by financially helping her husband, Torvald was angry. When Nora realizes that she is only confined to submissive life in her home, she closes the door and leaves everything behind (The house of a doll). In this period, every woman was like Nora, a victim of the Victorian society mentality. There is no understanding between a man and a woman; They could perceive each other as equals. Although Nora was happy with her life at first, she realized the importance of being someone. Similarly to Nora, Mrs. Alving de Ghosts, who was quiet and submissive throughout her husband’s life, slowly reached the same conclusion as Nora; A better life awaits them as long as they are honest with themselves. They took action by taking control of their lives and became an example for women everywhere.

Hedda Gabler, another of Ibsen’s works, became another source of inspiration for women. Gabler was a strong and independent woman who yielded to the norms of her society. Although he could have managed his life alone, he decided to marry by social agreement. As unhappy as he was, he manipulated everyone around him just to calm his boredom. This was unthinkable in the Victorian era too. The men were supposed to have the power, but Gabler was the one in control while her husband looked at her with such adoration. It was as if gender roles were changed in this work. Ibsen mentioned the growing social problems related to gender roles in all his works. He expressed the defects that society had along with a solution to abandon that situation. Nora left her husband; Mrs. Alving learned to be honest; Gabler committed suicide. These solutions, of course, are extreme, but they taught that no one has to endure it.

A man who was realistic without so much controversy was John Millington Synge. In this period of time, his work, Riders to the Sea, was not as controversial as his other literary works. However, different perspectives are applicable in this situation, such as the visualization of the characters. Having lost so many men at sea, Maurya did not expect more men to come back to face the sea. Anyway, the priest naively thought that his son would return home alive. Maurya’s daughters tried to remain optimistic, but they knew what was to come. ‘Bartley’s death becomes a symbol of the death of all men, just as the sea becomes a symbol of implacable mortality that makes existence meaningless and Christian belief (represented by the young priest of the work) is irrelevant’. Therefore, this game questions multiple problems that people previously bought. In the past, a priest was supposedly omniscient and everyone believed him. However, as time went by, the public began to realize that priests are not always right.

Synge taught that life is about how individuals perceive it. Pleasure and well-being can come from the angle in which the situation is looked at. For some people, it seems that it would be easier to think that a man lost in the sea is alive. Other people could be calmer knowing that man is not alive and suffering. In this period of time, women found themselves in this situation very often because the men in their lives needed to exercise at sea. Although most people do not have to be in this exact situation today, the lesson on perception can be applied to most situations. Some people may define perceptions as negativity and positivity, but ultimately, perception must be determined by the benefits it provides.

Another author who contributed to the literature of realism was Anton Chekhov. However, he took different approaches to his works. He treated the issues ‘from a sadly comic perspective’. Chekhov focused on the characters more than anything. In The Cherry Orchard, his characters represented the romantics and the realists. It also belonged to the groups that were coming to power at that time. For example, social classes were changing in Russia during the Realism Movement. The middle class was increasing as aristocrats began to lose their wealth. Realists were realizing the fact that working and earning money could take them somewhere. Lopakhin was the perfect illustration of that; He worked with commitment and made a profit on his expenses until he had money he could spend. However, as a realist, he still tried to help others not to lose their life’s work. Meanwhile, romantics and upper classes, like Lubov, were losing everything they owned. They were given solutions, but rejected because of their pride.

As the Realist Era swept the world, the mentality was adjusting to survive. People were forced to have a more open mind in order to succeed and The Cherry Orchard characters began to realize this. In society, it was becoming common to witness people struggling in desperate social situations, and that is exactly what Chekhov was trying to portray. Similar to time period transitions, romantics were falling from power while the royalists rose to power. It seemed that all the characters already had a destiny that they were destined to live. Modern thought took over literary works, as well as real life.

Literature was not the only form of humanities that was affected by the Realism Movement. In Russia, even the music changed dramatically. “After the Revolution, popular musical expression was controlled to remain accessible to the masses and ideologically acceptable. The ‘massive song’ developed, and the marches and secular hymns remained prominent’. In other words, Russian music became more patriotic. Most of the time, nationalism was more evident. in popular music (Stapleton-Corcoran). Surprisingly, amateur composers were the ones who started to write nationalist music that attracted the masses. However, other composers still wrote music in the romantic genre. The taste for music began expand to a variety of genres with the exception of jazz, tango and foxtrot, which were considered inappropriate.In the 1920s during the Realism Movement, opera was just beginning to flourish.Today, Russian opera is becoming popular again.

Other forms of humanities also went through significant changes. Philosophies and scientific discoveries were being made. ‘Scientific realism’ affirms the existence of several observable and unobservable entities of which it claims to be able to give the best representations’ “Since the Middle Ages, realism has become opposed to idealism. Here realism means that reality exists apart from ideas about it in the mind, and idealism represents the opinion that we cannot know anything that is not in our minds”. Realism in philosophy is about issues that are not yet understood. Plato and Aristotle were now outdated and philosophers were busy researching and discovering things we had no knowledge about. People no longer pretended to have knowledge about the humanities; Instead, humans were making progress to be more realistic about their views. The evolution of these issues was the cause of the different ways of thinking that exploded in the Realism Movement.

Art also changed during the Age of Realism. In the romantic period, it was known that the paintings belonged to man and nature. The men were painted almost angelic and many artists really painted angels. The paintings were inspired by the imagination of the artist. As said before, this period of time was almost obsessed with the idea of perfection in man and nature. However, some artists began to think differently. ‘Realism was initiated by Courbet, who explained that he wanted to be honest with his own experience and that, having never seen an angel, he could certainly never paint one’ . After Courbet reached that conclusion, other artists began to convert to realism. These works of art seemed as real as our own world. Of course, a lot of commotion woke up in this new kind of art. The subjects were not always approved, but very soon, the art world was taken by paintings that could deceive the eyes.

Although the Realism Movement began years ago, it is still present in the 21st century. Realism has evolved since that period of time. New social problems have been more common in current literature and there are still a multitude of controversial issues. For example, Stephen Chbosky is the author of Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is a book about an innocent teenager who finds stereotyped problems in high school. It involves sex, drugs, homosexuality and depression, which are sensitive issues for certain people. Chbosky said: ‘I didn’t write it to be a controversial book’ . In teenagers’ lives, they encounter several, if not all, those situations. Chbosky was being realistic, but some people still refuse to accept it. While not all teenagers participate in these matters, many are still witnesses to these circumstances.

In the 21st century, realism is still alive and well in the art world. Art has also become superrealism, which is ‘meticulously painted in a style of extreme naturalism, like a color photography with a sharp focus’ (photorealism). This type of painting became very popular in the United States and still is. These types of painting can literally look like a photograph, and they are called photorealism.

Humanity is affected by each new movement. Even today, the humanities still have influences that come from romanticism and realism, but it is still evolving. The realism movement remains relevant and contemporary. Philosophy and science are subjects that humans will never know enough, but measures are still taken to benefit the human race. 

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