1829, of art, literature, etc., "true to reality, exhibiting realism in description or representation;" 1831 as "involving a practical view of life" (opposed to idealistic); see realist + -ic. Related: Realistically.
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.
Middle English -ik, -ick, word-forming element making adjectives, "having to do with, having the nature of, being, made of, caused by, similar to," from French -ique and directly from Latin -icus or from cognate Greek -ikos "in the manner of; pertaining to." From PIE adjective suffix *-(i)ko, which also yielded Slavic -isku, adjectival suffix indicating origin, the source of the -sky (Russian -skii) in many surnames. In chemistry, indicating a higher valence than names in -ous (first in benzoic, 1791).
In Middle English and after often spelled -ick, -ike, -ique. Variant forms in -ick (critick, ethick) were common in early Modern English and survived in English dictionaries into early 19c. This spelling was supported by Johnson but opposed by Webster, who prevailed.