The term modern realism is applied to painting or sculpture created since the development of abstraction in modern art but which continues to represent things in a realistic manner

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  • Christian Schad, 'Agosta, the Pigeon-Chested Man, and Rasha, the Black Dove' 1929
    Christian Schad
    Agosta, the Pigeon-Chested Man, and Rasha, the Black Dove 1929
    Oil on canvas
    unconfirmed: 1200 x 800 mm
    frame: 1353 x 956 x 50 mm
    Lent from a private collection 2000© Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn and DACS, London 2002
  • André Derain, 'Still Life' circa 1938-43
    André Derain
    Still Life circa 1938-43
    Oil on canvas
    frame: 1109 x 1677 x 60 mm
    support: 885 x 1458 mm
    Purchased with assistance from Cognac Courvoisier 1986© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • Sir Stanley Spencer, 'Self-Portrait' 1959
    Sir Stanley Spencer
    Self-Portrait 1959
    Oil on canvas
    support: 508 x 406 mm
    frame: 665 x 565 x 80mm
    Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982© Estate of Stanley Spencer. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2002

Although in the nineteenth century realism had a special meaning as an art term, since the rise of abstract approaches in modern art, realism, or realist, or realistic, has come to be primarily a stylistic description referring to painting or sculpture that continues to represent things in a way that more or less pre-dates post-impressionism and the succession of modern styles that followed. Much of the best modern realist art still has the edginess of subject matter that was the essential characteristic of nineteenth-century realism.

In the twentieth century, realism saw an upsurge in the 1920s when the shock of the First World War brought a reaction, known as the return to order, to the avant-garde experimentation of the pre-war period. In Germany this led to the Neue Sachlichkeit movement (Otto Dix, Christian Schad) and magic realism. In France, Andre Derain, previously a fauve painter, became a central figure in what was called traditionisme. In the USA there was the phenomenon of regionalism, and the great realist Edward Hopper. In Britain there was the Euston Road School and the painter Meredith Frampton. The British Kitchen Sink artists could be included, but they used essentially modern styles to paint realist subjects.

Among other major modern realist painters are Balthus, Lucian Freud, David Hockney (in his portraits), Gwen John, Giorgio Morandi and Stanley Spencer.