Mysterious Realism of American Art

What is the definition of the Realism movement in the world of art? Basically, it is the attempt to depict the surrounding reality as truthful as possible, without any additional artistic interpretations, any supernatural or artificial presence. Realism shows what is around us. But today we gonna get acquainted with three artists, whose style is usually described as Realism, but there is surely something more than meets the eye. We will try to get to the essence of their oeuvre and figure out what is hidden behind the realistic portrayal of the world. 

 Edward Hopper 


Edward Hopper (1882–1967) is famous for his urban life paintings. He has some special, quite gloomy, coloring style and taste for the particular architecture of the growing America at the first part of 20th century. But if we look at the people, they are seem inexpressive; the exterior is always dominating. Hopper captured the urban course of the America’s development, and people often did not feel comfortable and welcomed in the city spaces, as well as on his paintings. Solitude is a leitmotiv of Hopper’s oeuvre. 


He creates special atmosphere, a bit dark, with an accent on the environment structure, and with the feeling of almost epiphanic premonition. 


Edward Hopper was also one of the pioneer artists who noted the significance of the emerging aesthetics of the American urban environment; he was interested in buildings, diners, gas stations etc. Thanks to the unique atmosphere on his paintings, Hopper’s works inspired generations of the Realist artists; moreover, it was also inspirational for cinematographers. 


For example, this painting served as a source of inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Particularly for the famous Bates house, which scared several generations in the row with his suspiciously looking windows and frightening aura. We look at a simple house, but we see much more than that. This statement is relevant to all Hopper’s works. 

Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) is often compared to our previous character. Indeed, they are alike in the feeling of solitude their works give, in the choice of scenery. But the techniques and colors policy are completely different. However, both artists had tremendous impact on the course of American visual culture. And while Hopper was focused on the city life, Wyeth was fond of the land, country views, and people living close to the nature. 


This is the most famous Wyeth’s work, which he had finished when he was 31 years old. The young woman was his neighbor, Christina Olson, who had been crippled from the presumable polio and rarely left her house. Christina’s whole world is right beside her, yet it seems so far away. The painting beams with the feeling of something dangerous in the air. Wyeth, in contrast to Hopper, concentrates on the psychological state of the people in his works, and on their interaction with land and nature. The extraordinary thing about Andrew Wyeth is his popularity during the period of rising influence of Abstract Art. His oeuvre speaks to many as a part of American culture which was extremely important, but had been undergoing the drastic changes due to the social and industrial transformations. Perhaps, because of that anticipation of the upcoming changes, his paintings often gives a melancholic impression. And again, we face the realistic depiction, yet it is full of psychological insights and deep meanings. 

Norman Rockwell 


Norman Rockwell (1894–1978) is the third character of our article, and he is quite different from the previous ones. During his lifetime he had produced about four thousands works, creating paintings, illustration series and covers for the magazines. Because of the work for mass media and kind of idealistic vision of the everyday America, Rockwell was criticized by critics and his contemporaries. But despite this, it is impossible to ignore his incredible talent. He managed to create a wide-known style and light-hearted manner of the portrayal of a modern American life.   

His works often look like a well-timed photograph, which has that Decisive Moment we talked about in the previous article. Though Norman Rockwell’s choices of themes were under-appreciated at the time, later in his carrier he turned to more serious topics of the daily American life. 

Norman Rockwell’s works are not the fictitious ones; in fact, sometimes he based them on the photographs. But his oeuvre is clearly a special part of the American culture, mainly because it was not just the real-life sketches and illustrations, but the whole new vision behind the regular scenes. That is what interesting about today’s authors: all of them are being referred as Realist artists; and yet, all three cannot be attached only to the objective reality. And there lies the mystery of the American Realism. 

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