A movement occupying the middle and late 19th century, Realism aimed to recreate the visible world in an objective, unbiased manor. Unique for its attempt at removing any frivolous artistic liberties that might be taken, the movement also sought to represent the disenfranchised and impoverished, a population that had previously been excluded from representation in fine art. Courbet was the most vocal proponent for the movement, even writing the “Manifesto of Realism” proclaiming that Realism was “the negation of the Ideal.”
The Realist movement developed most fully in France. The literature of the middle of the 19th century was dominated by figures such as Honore de Balzac and Emile Zola, both advocates for representing the difficult lives of the poor and overworked. This cultural trend started with sentimental, rural tendencies in part influenced by domestic Dutch paintings but later evolved into a more objective and universal representation. This trend in French literature naturally influenced the painters of the day. Realism of this sort was extinguished by the beginning of the 20th century (in part due to the rise of photography) but manifested itself in the slightly less objective form of Social Realism which was heavily employed by the USSR.
Rubin, JH. “Realism,” in Oxford Art Online.