17c., in philosophy, in senses clustered around the notion of "one who believes in the real existence of the external world, independent of all thought about it," from real (adj.) + -ist, and compare French réaliste. Also see realism. Meaning "artist or writer working by the principles of artistic realism" is by 1870.
Entries linking to realist
early 14c., "actually existing, having physical existence (not imaginary);" mid-15c., "relating to things" (especially property), from Old French reel "real, actual," from Late Latin realis "actual," in Medieval Latin "belonging to the thing itself," from Latin res "property, goods, matter, thing, affair," which de Vaan traces to a PIE *Hreh-i- "wealth, goods," source also of Sanskrit rayim, rayah "property, goods," Avestan raii-i- "wealth."
The meaning "genuine" is recorded from 1550s; the sense of "unaffected, no-nonsense" is from 1847. Real estate, the exact term, "land, including what is naturally or artificially on or in it" is recorded from 1660s, but as far back as Middle English real was used in law in reference to immovable property, paired with, and distinguished from, personal. The noun phrase real time is from early 19c. in logic and philosophy, from 1953 as an adjectival phrase in reference to "the actual time during which an event or process occurs," with the rise of computer processes. Get real, usually an interjection, was U.S. college slang in 1960s, reaching wide popularity c. 1987. As a noun, the real, "that which actually exists," by 1818 (Coleridge). The real thing "the genuine article" is by 1818.
Real applies to that which certainly exists, as opposed to that which is imaginary or feigned : as, real cause for alarm ; a real occurrence ; a real person, and not a ghost or a shadow ; real sorrow. Actual applies to that which is brought to be or to pass, as opposed to that which is possible, probable, conceivable, approximate, estimated, or guessed at. [Century Dictionary]
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. [Margery Williams, "The Velveteen Rabbit"]
Variant -ister (as in chorister, barrister) is from Old French -istre, on false analogy of ministre. Variant -ista is from Spanish, popularized in American English 1970s by names of Latin-American revolutionary movements.