After studying with Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and furthering his training abroad in Germany at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, George Luks traveled throughout Europe, returning to the United States in 1894. He first worked as a newspaper illustrator for Philadelphia journals; in 1896, following the encouragement of fellow illustrators Robert Henri, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn, who had also studied with Anshutz, he relocated to New York City.
Criticized for his poor handling of the human anatomy, Luks answered his detractors by rendering this complex scene of two nude wrestlers. The artist’s perspective was radical for the time. Luks’s composition effectively presses the viewer to the edge of the wrestling pit, thereby emphasizing the down-at-heels setting. The jarring vantage point also evokes the sweaty underbelly of modern urban life, a theme for which he and fellow members of the Ashcan School would become known.