Known as both 'Russian beauty' (Krasavitsa) and 'Merchant's wife' (Kupchikha), the voluptuous female figure lounging in bed is a recurrent figure in Kustodiev's oeuvre. Over the years, Kustodiev revisited his compositions depicting this subject, constantly making additions and experimenting with the image. Probably one of the best examples is 'Russian beauty' (The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), which Kustodiev originally painted in 1915, only to return to the same composition in 1921 ('Russian beauty', The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), adding elements such as the shoes of the sitter and Russian porcelain in the background.
The present painting, dated 1919, appears to have been based on a charcoal drawing 'Reclining nude' (Fig. 1; Lezhashchaia naturshchitsa), dated 1915. In 1919, he reused the same reclining nude with his favourite elements which made his compositions famous and desirable. This 1919 version does not appear to be the last work produced, another variant of this composition called 'The merchant's wife and the house-sprite' (Kupchikha i domovoi), was conceived in 1916, started in 1921 and finished in 1922 (see M. Etkind, Boris Kustodiev, no. 617, p. 203, illustrated).
Leo Maskovskii left Russia during the revolution and acquired an important collection of Russian paintings in the Baltic countries in the 1920s, including the present painting and Konstantin Somov's 'The young sleeping woman' (both sold by Christie's, London, 24 October 1989), in addition Isaak Levitan's 'The Mill, the Sunset' (sold at Christie's, New York, 24 October 2002, lot 15).