At face value, here's a woman lying on a bed, relaxing, smoking a cigarette, clothed, who has obviously just been reading a book. So what's the problem?
Let's have a look at other paintings of women who belong to this genre - the classic 'odalisque'. This was a common theme of the nineteenth century when tales of Arabian harems and exotic Eastern women provided plenty of scope for artists wishing to please their rich European male patrons.
Here's an odalisque by Ingres.
She's glancing round at her male visitor, her back is elongated into a graceful curve, her body is flawless, she holds a fan handle which hints at sexual pleasure. This lady, despite the classic pose and smooth beauty, is a working girl and hundreds of works of art on a similar theme were produced for rich clients under the pretence of Orientalism with a classical bent.
The mould was broken by Manet in his painting, Olympia:
In this painting Manet's odalisque is also displayed on a couch. But she stares out at us (probably the male viewer) with a frank gaze. There is nothing seductive in the way her splayed hand covers her genitals and her body is pale and unhealthy looking. The maid has flowers from a client, in crumpled paper and the black cat on the right is angry and ready to spit. Needless to say, this painting caused an uproar at the time!
Later Picasso would push the boundaries even more in this work called Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
You couldn't get further from the classical odalisque than this painting by Picasso of prostitutes in a brothel. These images show women still as exotic, but they appear to be wearing primitive masks and their demeanour is threatening, their bodies fractured.
Again, this is another painting that divided the critics, and even Picasso's closest friends.