Jan Van Goyen,
River landscape with Ferry, Boats and Cottages,1634,
Oil on canvas, 112,6 x 151,8 cm.


Naturalism was an imprecisely defined artistic tendency which left its mark on western painting for almost three centuries, reaching its culmination in the nineteenth century. In the face of history and portrait painting, traditionally considered as the leading artistic genres, naturalism sprang from pictorial achievements within the realms of landscape paintings, scenes of daily life and habits -also known as "genre" paintings- and the field of still-lifes. It was precisely because these were considered minor genres that none of them were subject to the strict rules which governed the painting of mythological, religious and allegorical paintings, which were obliged to improve upon reality in order to represent "the ideal". Naturalism took advantage of a direction observation of nature and a progressive abandoning of workshops conventions.

Nonetheless, as a counterpoint to the gradual secularisation of eighteenth -and nineteenth- century paintings, what had initially started out as a desire to paint reality without artifice became itself an awareness of the problems and limits of representation. Thus, from the middle of the 19th century onwards , it would be painting itself, rather than a specific subject, which would attract the attention of the most modern artists.