Real and Ideal: The Realism of Jules Breton examines the artistic production of Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton (1827-1906) in relation to theories of realism, the historiography of Realism, and the discursive formation of the “peasant” in the visual culture and history of the nineteenth century. In his cultivation of the persona of the preeminent peintre paysan, and through his works which represented his vision of country life, Breton, perhaps more than any other French artist of the nineteenth century, was involved in an explicit negotiation of two fundamental concepts, which effectively constituted the terms of the “realist debate”: the “real” and the “ideal.” In negotiating past and present, rural and urban, the particular and the universal, notions of the real and the ideal, which perhaps began as nothing more than what Umberto Eco termed a “semiotic enclave,” became an entire discourse on truth, aesthetics, and social welfare in the artistic and critical output of the period dominated by Realism (1830-1885) and its subsequent historiography. Rather than reinforce this binary as it has appeared in much of the scholarship on Realism, this dissertation aims to restore a productive ambivalence to these terms and conceives of this perceived opposition as operatively valuable within the discourse of realism itself and as emblematic of its inherent tensions. By analyzing Breton’s paintings, poetry, and prose through an exploration of some primary concerns of Realism: truth, type, and the artist’s self, this dissertation proposes that the antagonism between the “real” and the “ideal” that has underscored so much of the historiography of Realism is rather more apparent than actual. It concludes that within this more capacious understanding of Realism, as at once antinomical and dialectic, Jules Breton emerges as its most typical practitioner.