The Duel on the Beach is a captivating scene that brilliantly demonstrates N.C. Wyeth's gift for narrative and composition. Originally commissioned by Carl G. Fisher for Rafael Sabatini's article of the same title in the September 1931 issue of Ladies' Home Journal, the painting was also used as a dust-jacket illustration for Sabatini's book that expanded on the article, The Black Swan. According to Christine Podmaniczky, "Passages in the story that describe aspects of the painting suggest that Sabatini may have written them to correspond with the painting." (N.C. Wyeth, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. II, London, 2008, p. 493).
In The Duel on the Beach, Wyeth captures a dramatic sword fight that sparks the viewer's imagination, while demonstrating the artist's mastery of light, color, and detail. Here he presents a vigorous struggle as one man lunges at another, his attempt at victory thwarted by a well-executed block. A group of pirates stand below, acting as an engaged audience. Wyeth employs a high-keyed palette for the clothes of the duelers and the spectators, setting them off against the more subdued palette of the seascape and sky. He utilizes a play of light, highlighting some areas and shadowing others, to heighten the drama and visual appeal of the scene. As in all his best works, each figure acts as a unique character, with body position and facial features and expression carefully thought out and marvelously presented to create a thoroughly engaging scene that fuels the viewer's imagination. A skilled landscape painter, he sets the scene against a majestic seascape under beautifully hued, billowing clouds, which heightens the scene beyond mere illustration to a beautifully rendered painting of timeless appeal.
Christine Podmaniczky writes of the present work, "This painting, commissioned for the entrepreneur and pirate enthusiast Carl G. Fisher, was certainly in Fisher's possession by May 1926. Correspondence at the National Geographic Society makes it clear that John Oliver La Gorce supplied Wyeth with photographs of several of Fisher's friends, whose portraits the artist incorporated into the picture (for example, the two pirates watching between and behind the duelers are James Allison, president of Allison Motors, Indianapolis, Ind., at left, and John Oliver La Gorce, National Geographic Society, at right)." (N.C. Wyeth, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, p. 493)