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Naturalism in Art and Literature

The Father Of Naturalism, The Early Naturalist Painters, Spreading Naturalism, Bibliography

Naturalism, a term widely used in the nineteenth century, was employed by novelists, artists, and art critics as a synonym for realism. But, in fact, naturalism was a much more complex term. The term derived from the theory of positivism developed by the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857). The roots of scientific naturalism, emerging from the eighteenth century and coming to fruition in the nineteenth century, considered knowledge as a pure science that was to be reinforced by a clear understanding of the laws of nature and an objective observation of facts. In the last half of the nineteenth century writers, primarily novelists, subscribed to this innovative positivist view of the world around them.

In the course of the nineteenth century the philosopher Hippolyte Taine applied scientific methods to the study of art and literature. From 1864 to 1884, as a professor at the influential École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Taine taught students that the character and development of visual culture were determined by two qualities: race and the environment in which art was created. Taine presented the foundation for an evolutionary approach toward human nature and the importance of family genes in determining the ways in which people reacted. Similarly, this author's advocacy of studying the locale or place in which an individual was brought up emphasized societal implications in shaping an individual. Taine's widely read book The Philosophy of Art conveyed his beliefs to a broad audience.

Taine's ideas also provided a scientific method for historians that allowed them to understand the past and even predict the future since it was based on immutable historic laws. His approach contributed a foundation upon which contemporary thinkers could build literary and artistic examples of works that were meant to reflect their own era through a factual reconstruction of the "spirit of the time." This need to be "of one's own time" affected writers and visual artists until the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.

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