At the same time that Bellows presents us with an image of a contemporary sporting event, he also delves into a theme with a long history in art. By focusing on the physical power and intense engagement of the two fighters, we are invited to see them as battling warriors, a subject that has been treated since prehistoric times.
For many years, public prize fighting was illegal in the United States but was permitted among members of private clubs such as Tom Sharkey’s Athletic Club, an establishment frequented by Bellows. Despite insisting that he knew little about the sport, Bellows depicted various aspects of boxing in his paintings, prints, and drawings. The subject was fraught with drama and alluded to more general concepts such as competition, battle, victory, and defeat. This print is related to a work painted by Bellows in 1909 and now in the Cleveland Museum of Art.