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Possibly after Gustave Courbet, Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer)

Key facts
Full title Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer)
Artist Possibly after Gustave Courbet
Artist dates 1819 - 1877
Date made possibly 1870s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 96.5 × 130 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1964
Inventory number NG6355
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer)
Possibly after Gustave Courbet

Two young women lie by a river. Traditionally, such a scene would be set in an idyllic landscape, with the women as impossibly perfect ideals of youth and beauty, often in the guise of classical nudes – goddesses of Greek mythology. But this pair caused a scandal when a larger version (now in the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris) appeared at the Paris Salon in 1857.

Courbet had subverted the tradition, showing two modern city women in an inappropriate Arcadian setting, one of them, shockingly, in her underwear. To the contemporary bourgeois audience, full nudity would probably have been considered less indecent. The artist’s reputation as a dangerous radical quickly grew.

Courbet made a number of studies for the Salon painting, but it’s not certain if this is one of them or a copy made later by an unknown artist. It would not appear to be in Courbet’s hand, but still holds something of the shock of the original at first view.

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