Gustave Courbet, The Sleepers (Le Sommeil) 1866 is one of the most beautiful yet controversial famous nude paintings ever produced. It is a fine example of erotic art, depicting two women in bed.
Sometimes referred to as Les Deux Amies or Paresse et Luxure (translating as the Two Friends and Indolence and Lust, respectively), it has created scandal since its creation.
As an early example of lesbian artwork, the painting depicts two naked women. They recline fully asleep on a bed, locked in a passionate embrace—a broken pearl necklace and a stray hairpin reference their sexual activities.
Hiffernan was the artist James McNeill Whistler’s model and muse. Indeed, he famously depicted her in White Girl: Symphony in White, as well as in hundreds of other paintings, drawings, and sketches throughout his career.
Whistler’s relationship with Hiffernan ended soon after Courbet’s Le Sommeil launched. The role of Courbet’s painting in this breakdown of relations remains unproven.
Initially commissioned by the Turkish diplomat Halil Şerif Paşa, Gustave Courbet’s The Sleepers is a rare example of lesbian nude painting.
It is controversial for its unabashed portrayal of female sensuality. Inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s Delphine et Hippolyte poem, it details the women’s bodies with extreme attention. However, Courbet doesn’t accentuate the beauty of the female form or gloss over the women’s imperfections. Instead, the artist presents them as they are.
The bedroom features a dark velvet curtain and decorative floral detailing, with small domestic items scattered around the room. Notwithstanding these intricate details, there are few other furnishings in the room to overshadow the painting's primary focus, which is the two women.
A Paris art dealer exhibited The Sleepers in 1872, but it quickly garnered police attention. As a result, the painting was considered highly scandalous and banned from public display until 1988.
Other Gustave Courbet artworks, such as L’Origine du Monde (featuring a close-up view of a woman’s vulva and abdomen), were similarly censured by authorities.
Despite the public scandal, the painting was a cause célèbre in Parisian society. As a result, several contemporary artists worked with the theme of lesbian relationships in the immediate aftermath. Scholars believe this proliferation of depictions of female love consequently reduced taboos surrounding lesbianism.
As a leading proponent of the Realism art movement, Gustave Courbet transformed nineteenth-century French painting. Yet, throughout his career, he remained committed to depicting what he could see.
Courbet described his painting methodology as “the reasoned and independent consciousness of my individuality.” He consequently rejected the Romanticism and Classicism favored by the traditional French Academy, instead opting for his unique style.
Courbet never shied away from making controversial social statements in his paintings. Evidenced not only in Le Sommeil and L’Origine du Monde, but this social conscience is also evident in works such as The Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair (1850), which depicts the reality of everyday life with unabashed bravery.
Gustave Courbet paintings remained dedicated to his Realist vision, attempting to “translate” the customs and ideas of mid-nineteenth century France “according to [his] own estimations.”
Courbet The Sleepers now hangs in the distinguished collection of the Petit Palais Museum in Paris.
Many Famous Nude Paintings appear in our Art Collection catalog. In addition, discover oil painting reproductions by Gustave Courbet and many other famous artists.
We offer a 100% money back guarantee or replacement service. If for any reason you are dissatisfied with your painting please contact us within 7 days of receipt, advising the reason you are unhappy and we will provide you with all the information you need for its return or replacement.
Your painting will be shipped rolled in strong plastic tubing, ready for stretching and/or framing locally. This is the conventional method of transporting hand-painted oil on canvas. Learn more about how your painting is shipped.
Please note that replica oil paintings are finished with an additional 10cm (4") of extra canvas on all sides, allowing ample surplus canvas for stretching and framing.