Two wrestlers engage in this luminous, athletic image. The wrestler on top pins his opponent in a half nelson. Light falls on their wiry, muscled bodies, as if to emphasize the glow of physical exertion and the glory of the body. These wrestlers really did strike a pose on the artist’s studio floor; he painted a series of wrestling scenes from live models and photographs. One existing photograph shows wrestlers in this very pose.
Eakins’ choice of subject matter and style, an in-your-face image of working class men engaged in a working class sport, made a statement; the art world establishment at that time tended to favor more genteel subjects.