Ingres worked on Le bain turc, now at the Louvre, over a period of more than a decade. In 1852 he finished a first version which was rectangular in format, for which the present drawing served as a preliminary sketch. After that date Ingres resumed work on his painting and it is now known through a photograph taken in 1859 (fig. 1).
The major figures in the drawing, which are already partially squared for transfer, correspond almost exactly with the ones in the painting. Ingres was particularly interested in the problem of the space between the reclining figure leaning backwards in the foreground, and the seated woman in the center. The idea to introduce the motif of two embracing girls is already present in the drawing, though Ingres was not yet sure how to render the lower body of the figures. The relationship between the upper bodies was still unclear, and Ingres was apparently not satisfied with this first idea, since he went over the two heads with several vigorous pen strokes.
Ingres intended to give the picture to Comte Demidoff but it was most probably never delivered (G. Wildenstein, Ingres, London, 1956, p. 230, no. 312). Soon after 1859 it was sold to Prince Napoléon but was returned to Ingres on the ground that the Imperial Family regarded the subject improper. Ingres, as was frequently the case, reworked the composition. The painting was not finished until 1863, when it was given its final circular shape.