Realism and its close relatives, Naturalism and Illusionism, have
all been important aspects in the development of painting in North
America. During the formative periods of U.S. and Canadian history,
many skilled painters were either immigrants or indigenous artists who
expanded their skills with extended travel in Europe or study in
European academies. The natural wonders of North America, as well as
the rugged heritage of the frontier, helped to inspire a detailed, sharp focused and
down to earth style. In these times paintings were often narrative in
nature, providing an informal record of the frontier culture.
Additionally, a thorough review of North American paintings in the
pre-Civil War period will yield many examples of inspired art and
cultural commentaries. Notable artists
Charles Bird King,
Charles Deas, John Mix Stanley,
Eastman Johnson, George Caleb Bingham in the U.S.,
and Paul Kane in Canada. They were later
followed by Charles M. Russell, Fredric Remington and many others.
Historical Canadian Realism Gallery
During the Colonial era
Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley
were perhaps the first North Americans to establish signficant reputations in
Europe as skilled artists. In the middle decades of the 19th
century, the landscapes of the Hudson River School held center stage
and drew attention to the natural wonders on the American
continents. Some of these artists grew to great stature, most notably Thomas
Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, and Albert Bierstadt. In later decades
they were followed by Thomas Moran and by Homer Watson in Canada. In
the final decades of the 19th Century,
Thomas Eakins and others refocused the limelight on figurative and
narrative subjects. Paul Peel, a Canadian student of Eakins and
Gerome, established a reputation, particularly for his work with the
first significant school of art was called the Group of Seven.
Founded in 1913, these landscape artists developed techniques en plein air. Generally influenced by French Impressionism, The Group
choose subject material from the rugged areas around of Algoma
District and near Georgian Bay. LeMoine Fitzgerald joined the Group
of Seven in 1932, and became a founding member of the Canadian Group
of Painters, which succeeded the original Group in the 1933. His art was influenced by
and Precisionism, and represents a kind of prelude to High Realism .
The concept of High Realism was introduced by art critic Paul Duval
in his book High Realism in Canada, published in 1974. Mr.
Duval defined its essential qualities as follows: "objectivity of
vision, sharpness of definition, precision of technique, accuracy of
detail, and excellence of craftsmanship". He went on to say that
"though high realists use nature as their take-off point, they bring
to it a highly personal vision, style and technique". Duval intended
for High Realism art to be considered distinct from Photorealism,
which appeared in the U.S. beginning in the late 1960's.
Beginning in the period following World War II, Abstract
Expressionism dominated the press and art criticism in North
America. But with the work of Andrew Wyeth and others in the U.S.
and of Alex Colville in Canada, representational art retained a
foothold, on which High Realism blossomed in the 1960s. Although
perhaps never a discrete movement, still the artists of Canada share
an independent worldview, based on their country's traditions, and a
wholesome Canadian outlook. The ascendancy of High Realism coincided
with the national celebration of Canadian Centennial in 1967.
Some of the art considered as High Realism is painted with the Egg
Tempera technique, a tedious process that dates back to the Middle
Ages. Egg Tempera is fast drying and does not blend at the edges,
thus ideal for rendering precise and sharp details. Other artists
have used acrylic polymer emulsion, which is also fast drying.
There are abundant commercial products available for acrylics to
make glazes, varnish or to modify texture. Oil techniques.
particularly those using tempera and glazes, have also been used
successfully. It is important to note that High Realism embraces the
traditions of art, rather than attempting to avoid or destroy them.
Artists who have been most closely associated with High
Realism include Alex Colville, Christopher Pratt, and
Brown . Related works cited by Duval have come from Hugh Mackenzie, Fred Ross, Tom Forrestall, and Jeremy Smith. Duval also
but Hughes' work generally had a distinctive naive-like style, more
closely related to early Magic Realism. Many of Ken Danby's early
paintings were done in Egg Tempera, and are consistent with the
concept of High Realism. His later works seemed to have drifted
away toward a type of nature-based photorealism.
Other Canadian artists who have identified their work with High
Realism include Richard T. Davis and Brian LaSaga.
While High Realism has generally been associated with Canadian art,
comparable art can be found around the world in the work of a number
of artists, including Philip Pearlstein, Robert Vickery and James Aponovich in the U.S., Grahame Sydney in
New Zealand, Paul Christiaan Bos in the
Boris Koller in Austria, Brian Dunlop in Australia,
Manfred Juergens and Heiner Altmeppen in Germany. Although
High Realism sometimes borders or even overlaps Magic Realism in
style and content, it is even more deeply rooted in traditional
techniques and has a classical or cultivated outlook.
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