In the 1860’s Courbet began painting erotic nudes scenes, including depictions of female genitalia, nude women in erotic poses, and this painting, depicting lesbianism. Courbet gained much notoriety for his erotic nudes, which he displayed alongside hunting scenes, ensuring a sales and a reputation. Le Sommeil was commissioned by the Turkish diplomat Khalil Bey, who also commissioned The Origin of the World, to include his private collection of erotic paintings. This particular painting was also part of a police report in 1872 when a painting dealer held in it an exhibition. It was not allowed to be displayed publicly until 1988.