Gustave Courbet, Le Sommeil,1866.
Le Sommeil [The Sleepers], which depicts two women entwined in a post-coital embrace, caused a stir when it was first shown in the 1870s. The police were called in, and the painting was not shown again until the 1980s. But its brief showing had an influence on a number of contemporary artists, and helped challenge the taboos associated with lesbian relationships. For modern audiences it’s a good reminder that people in the 19th century were not ignorant of lesbian relationships, as we tend to believe. And it’s pretty damn sexy, don’t you think?