The model that inspired this beautiful drawing was possibly Virginie Binet, who had been living with Courbet for many years. An almost identical female profile can be seen on a plaster medallion on the wall of The Painter's Studio. But her identity, often used, is not the most important part of this charcoal drawing, which demonstrates how successfully this technique transfers Courbet's pictorial aesthetic into a graphic context.
In painting, the artist placed great importance on the richness of merit and contrasting volumes. He repeats the pose seen in one of his contemporary paintings, the Rembrandtesque Sleeping Blonde (Detroit. The Detroit Institute of Arts). The nude and the woman reading share the suggestive abandon of sleep, but the latter adds to this theme, so dear to Courbet, that of an interrupted or indiscreet activity. The open book might induce a dream state inspired by the book's subject matter. But rather than an innocent, childlike dream, this Reader suggests virtues that are more imaginative and less respectable. The young woman's unbuttoned dress and dishevelled blouse rather evoke the prolongation of literary escapism through erotic reverie.