Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings in the 1863 Salon des Refusés, where the painting sparked public notoriety and controversy. The piece is now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. A smaller, earlier version can be seen at the Courtauld Gallery, London.
The painting features a nude woman casually lunching with two fully dressed men. Her body is starkly lit and she stares directly at the viewer. The two men, dressed as young dandies, seem to be engaged in conversation, ignoring the woman. In front of them, the woman's clothes, a basket of fruit, and a round loaf of bread are displayed, as in a still life. In the background, a lightly clad woman bathes in a stream. Too large in comparison with the figures in the foreground, she seems to float above them. The roughly painted background lacks depth, giving the viewer the impression that the scene is not taking place outdoors, but in a studio. This impression is reinforced by the use of broad "studio" light, which casts almost no shadows. The man on the right wears a flat hat with a tassel, a kind normally worn indoors.
Despite the mundane subject, Manet deliberately chose a large canvas size, measuring 81.9 x 104.1 in (208 by 264.5 cm), normally reserved for historical, religious, and mythological subjects. The style of the painting breaks with the academic traditions of the time. He did not try to hide the brush strokes; the painting even looks unfinished in some parts of the scene. The nude is also starkly different from the smooth, flawless figures of Cabanel or Ingres.
A nude woman casually lunching with fully dressed men was an affront to audiences' sense of propriety, though Émile Zola, a contemporary of Manet's, argued that this was not uncommon in paintings found in the Louvre. Zola also felt that such a reaction came from viewing art differently than "analytic" painters like Manet, who use a painting's subject as a pretext to paint.
There is much still not known about the painting, such as when Manet actually began painting it, exactly how he got the idea, and how and what sort of preparation works he did. Though Manet had claimed this piece was once valued at 25,000 Francs in 1871, it actually remained in his possession until 1878 when Jean-Baptiste Faure, opera-singer and collector, bought it for just 2,600 Francs.