Almost sticking his head out of the canvas, the white Boxer in the upper right quadrant attracts the viewer’s attention and draws him into Sportsman’s Paradise. He guides us through the painting and is a clear reference to the two boxers in the centre of the composition. The white Boxer takes us past swimmers and rowers, sniffs at the wicket and, hunters and dogs charging over a fence, the fox they are after is visible in the centre of the composition. In the lower part of this composition the Boxer is jumping onto a man, he has a terrified expression on his face and his body is in motion. The other man tries to catch the dog’s tail and has thrown away his hunting gear and catch in the lower right corner. It appears that the artist has painted a parody of the traditional hunting scene where dog has turned against man. Behind this scene we see two dogs fighting each other like men, or like boxers in this instance. Looking towards the centre left of the canvas we see another hunting scene and two horsemen racing each other. We pass an oar and stumble upon a large depiction of a Yorkshire Terrier smoking a pipe, painted on a painter’s palette. Between the Yorkshire Terrier and the white Boxer, a man is attempting to do a headstand on an hourglass. Is the artist debating how he should spend his time?
In the centre of the composition two boxers are about to break into a bare-knuckle boxing match in a landscape. According to an old label attached to the stretcher these sportsmen are identifiable as the American boxer John Heenan “Benicia Boy” (1834-1873) and the English boxer Tom Sayers “Brighton Titch” (1826-1865). The boxers encountered each other in an illegal fight near Farnborough, Hampshire on 17 April 1860. Despite boxing being illegal in both America and England and only having a small following at the time, this match generated great interest from both public and press in either countries. According to sporting historians, this fight was the beginning of international boxing, the first “world title” match. The fight lasted an astonishing 2 hours 27 minutes and 42 rounds during which both boxers were badly injured, but they refused to give up and vowed to fight until the match was decided. This is emphasised by the cocks on either side of the boxers in the picture. Local police apparently already arrived during the 9th round, but they were heavily outnumbered by the crowd so had to wait for reinforcements. Upon their arrival the viewers refused to let the police through and the fight was able to continue while they fought their way through the spectators. As the police reached the ring Heenan was attempting to strangle Sayer with a ring rope, when the rope was cut by one of Sayer’s men, a group of viewers linked their arms and formed a ring while the riot with the police continued around them. By the time they reached the 42nd round the situation had become untenable and the referee declared the match was over. The crowd broke into a run for the train. Later the match was declared a draw, which was challenged by both parties. The story goes that no one other than the 19 year old Prince Wales was amongst the spectators, and also Charles Dickens, W.M. Thackeray and the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. The Prime Minister was questioned about the fight in the House of Commons and politicians called for a code of conduct. In 1865 they accepted the “Dozen Rules” drawn up by the London Amateur Athletic Club.