The Sleepers is a highly controversial oil painting on canvas by the French Realist painter, Gustave Courbet. The painting shows two naked women sleeping in a closely embraced position, with one having dark hair and the other having curly reddish hair and slightly lighter skin. It is evident that this painting was intended to be provocative since it shows nudity and same-sex intimacy.
Initially exhibited by a dealer in 1872, The Sleepers quickly became the subject of a police report due to its explicit nature. As such, it was not permitted to be exhibited publicly until 1988 – more than a century after its creation – because it was considered scandalous and inappropriate for public display.
From an artistic perspective, The Sleepers may be seen as Courbet’s interpretation of latent lesbianism often evidenced in many eighteenth-century works involving Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting. The use of nude figures as subjects was commonplace among artists at that time but often confined to depictions of women who were idealized and lacking any realistic details. In contrast, Courbet aimed for realism which sparked controversy due to portraying real-life scenarios with no attempt to hide uncomfortable truths about human nature.
In summary, although The Sleepers is considered one of Courbet’s most significant masterpieces highlighting his unconventional approach towards art that rebels against conventional norms set out during his time period; it remains one his most provocative paintings sparking debates worldwide on what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate art for public viewing even today.