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Aesthetic movement of the late 19th to early 20th century. The movement was inspired by the principles and methods of natural science, especially Darwinism, which were adapted to literature and art. In literature, naturalism extended the tradition of realism, aiming at an even more faithful, pseudoscientific representation of reality, presented without moral judgment. Characters in naturalistic literature typically illustrate the deterministic role of heredity and environment on human life. The movement originated in France, where its leading exponent was Émile Zola. In America it is associated with the work of writers such as Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser. Visual artists associated with naturalism chose themes from life, capturing subjects unposed and not idealized, thus giving their works an unstudied air. Following the lead of the Realist painter Gustave Courbet, painters chose themes from contemporary life, and many deserted the studio for the open air, finding subjects among peasants and tradespeople, capturing them as they found them. As a result, finished canvases had the freshness and immediacy of sketches. Zola, the spokesman for literary naturalism, was also the first to champion Édouard Manet and the Impressionists (seeImpressionism).While naturalism was short-lived as a historical movement, it contributed to art an enrichment of realism, new areas of subject matter, and a largeness and formlessness that was closer to life than to art. Its multiplicity of impressions conveyed the sense of a world in constant flux.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on naturalism, visit Britannica.com.