Naturalism in art is a current from around 1870 to 1900, but as a term for an epoch it is less sharp in the visual arts than in literature. In addition to naturalism as an epochal term, as a counterpart to naturalism in literature, one also speaks more generally of naturalism as a mode of representation that is independent of time and ideological background. Naturalism uses realism as a means; like realism, it depicts only visible reality and dispenses with the representation of abstract ideas, but does not strive, like realism, for the representation or construction of an aesthetic totality, e.g. through abridgement and reduction of forms. On the contrary, it opens up to detail and to new social and metropolitan themes.
he programmatic writing at the beginning of naturalism in France was Jules-Antoine Castagnary's manifesto Philosophie du salon de 1857 (1858), which referred to painting but also had a great influence on literature (notably Émile Zola). The goal of the naturalist artist is a depiction of the representational world, without leaving out the socially low, the simple life. However, outward correctness offers no guarantee of inner truth. Therefore, 19th century pictorial naturalism, like literary naturalism, is coupled with social commitment.
The terms naturalism and realism cannot be precisely distinguished in this context. Realism can mean that the mode of representation is still more closely tied to Romanticism despite its social commitment. Realism claims to go beyond the external to the essential, to the inner truth. Naturalism can also mean, for example, that open-air painting is preferred to studio painting. The French painter Gustave Courbet played the role of pioneer in this art-theoretical debate from the middle of the 19th century.
However, the representatives of "naturalism" as an epochal concept at the end of the 19th century perceived their art as something new, as a "revolution in literature"' and proclaimed naturalism essentially as an attack against idealistic art - above all of the post-classical period, although its realistic tendencies had nevertheless led to it. The new form of aggression is now referred to as literary historical epoch with 'naturalism' in a narrower sense. Its representatives also claimed the word "modern", as other movements, such as Young Germany, had already used for themselves. Accordingly, the noun "modernity" was also formed.