The original French title was Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine (été) and it was purchased by a friend of the artist, who was also a prolific donor to various artists. He passed it on later to Courbet's daughter, Juliette, and she donated much of her collection to the French state at a later date. This generous act has helped to ensure that her father's work remains, predominantly, still accessible to the public. He also allows his reputation to remain strong for generations to come, when art history is full of artists whose prominence has fluctuated over time. We have been able to learn more about the original painting from various study pieces that have also been uncovered - including both charcoal sketches and also fairly detailed oil paintings focusing on specific parts of the overall composition.
Most of Courbet's paintings that feature elements of nature would have been created in his native region of France. This differs, in that regard, in that it depicts young women, of good backgrounds, relaxing from the hustle and bustle of city life by the Seine river. It enables the artist to display his skills in drapery, with their dresses strewn wildly across the grass, with various undergarments also on show. That said, it remains a fairly innocent piece, which is perhaps why the Salon accepted it upon submission, and without any great controversy for once.
The Petit Palais in Paris has an exceptional collection, going way beyond just its selection of work by Gustave Courbet. They specialise most, as you might expect, in famous names from French art, though there are other international artists represented as well. Key names in this section of the institution's display include contributions from Theodore Gericault, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Eugene Delacroix and Auguste Rodin. There is much more besides to see, though, including sculpture and architecture. It can be overshadowed by The Louvre and Musée d'Orsay within Paris, but it remains a highly significant location for European art.