This paper approaches the scientific realism question from a naturalistic perspective. On the basis of a historical case study of the work of James Clerk Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann on the kinetic theory of gases, it shows that scientists’ views about the epistemological status of theories and models typically interact with their scientific results. Subsequently, the implications of this result for the current realism debate are analysed. The case study supports Giere’s moderately realist view of scientific models and theories, based on the notion of similarity, and it highlights the crucial role of model users. The paper concludes with a discussion of Boltzmann’s Bildtheorie, the sophisticated form of realism that he developed in response to the scientific problems of kinetic theory.