Frémiet first worked on the theme of the confrontation between man and animal in 1850 with his Ours blessé. The first version of the present subject, a gorilla abducting a woman, was submitted to the Salon of 1859 but was refused by the jury, condemned by critics and rejected by the public. Moreover, the original plaster was destroyed in Frémiet's atelier fire.
Twenty-eight years later the sculptor returned to the theme altering the African features of the abducted woman, adding elements of combat (the rock in the gorilla's hand and the spear in his back) as well as other changes to the position of the figures and the naturalistic ground. The plaster won the médaille d'Honneur at the Salon of 1887 and many commissions for the work were received. The change in the public's attitude towards the sculpture was due less to these subtle alterations in the composition and more to a better understanding of the subject itself: the belief that the ape had a sexual appetite for women and that these animals were caricatures of mankind with all its vices, had made the violent and sensual tone of the work unpalatable to the mid-century bourgeoisie. By 1887, however, the public would have been more accustomed to the idea of the ape as an ancestor of man, due in large part to the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. Consequently, the work was no longer perceived as a vulgar sensational statement but was interpreted as a Darwinian drama, depicting the struggle of man in nature and the relationship of the human race to the animal world.