In this painting Lambert depicted a wrestling match, contrasting the two bare-chested men wrestling on one side of the image with two women and two children on the other. Although probably a fictional scene, it has the appearance of being one that Lambert has witnessed. The two fighters seem almost equally matched, making it difficult to predict the outcome.
Lambert used the subject of wrestling as an opportunity to render the male torso, to study the human form in motion and to convey physical engagement between men – a deliberate confusion of brutality and sexuality. He created strong contrasts of dark and light, balancing the play of light on the pale surface of the skin against the dark background. The relatively low viewpoint and close focus places the viewer among the crowd and enables them to become a part of the spectacle – and to experience the force and energy of the struggle.
Lambert had been a good boxer in his youth, having been taught to box by his grandfather as a boy. In Paris in 1901–02 he used to practise boxing with his friends in order to keep fit.
In both subject and treatment Lambert’s image resembles the social realist images of boxers by the American painter George Bellows, such as Club night 1907 (National Gallery, Washington), Both members of this club 1909 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Stag at Sharkey’s 1909 (Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio). However, unlike many of his contemporaries, Bellows never travelled to Europe and it is unlikely that Lambert would have seen Bellows’s images. It would therefore appear that both artists were independently responding to the spirit of the times.