Art Term

Social realism

Refers to any realist painting that also carries a clearly discernible social or political comment

William Holman Hunt, ‘The Awakening Conscience’ 1853
William Holman Hunt
The Awakening Conscience 1853
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Sir Luke Fildes, ‘The Doctor’ exhibited 1891
Sir Luke Fildes
The Doctor exhibited 1891
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Augustus Leopold Egg, ‘Past and Present, No. 1’ 1858
Augustus Leopold Egg
Past and Present, No. 1 1858
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Augustus Leopold Egg, ‘Past and Present, No. 3’ 1858
Augustus Leopold Egg
Past and Present, No. 3 1858
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William Hogarth, ‘A Rake’s Progress (plate 8)’ 1735–63
William Hogarth
A Rake’s Progress (plate 8) 1735–63
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In Britain examples of social realism can be found in the eighteenth century, for example in the work of William Hogarth, but it became particularly widespread in the nineteenth century. Important contributions to social realism were made by the Pre-Raphaelites, and by the more serious-minded genre painters such as Augustus Egg, William Powell Frith, Luke Fildes and Frank Holl.

Social realism should not be confused with socialist realism.