Writing about a similar work with the same title from 1946, Delvaux was unequivocal about its subject matter, identifying the figures as "Two Lesbians." He goes on to say, "I find something very beautiful, from the point of view of formal values and line, in the contact between female flesh. It is, perhaps, erotic, but there is nothing wrong with that. In painting, all feelings become ethereal. Courbet, famously, made three paintings of lesbians in the following states Avant, Pendant and Après. The three paintings were seized at the Franco-Belgian border. The first two were burnt on the spot and the third was sent back to France: I've seen the photograph, and it's a wonderful painting" (quoted in Paul Delvaux, Peintures-dessins, 1922-1982 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 66). Although Delvaux's story about the three Courbet paintings is almost certainly apocryphal, the image he saw in a photograph (which he knew as Après) is almost certainly Le Sommeil (see fig. 1).
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