Rowlandson, himself an amateur fencer and boxer, was a good friend of Henry Angelo (1760-1839), who followed his father Domenico Angelo Malevelti Tremamando (1716-1802) as owner of the leading fencing academy in London. His Reminiscences, 1830, are full of references to the artist. The academy was established in London in 1770 and, after several changes of address, settled in Old Bond Street.
Rowlandson produced drawings and engravings of fencing matches from the 1780s onwards; for an example in an army setting see lot 23. Versions of the present drawing bear different inscriptions alluding to 'Mme Culleoni', 'Madame Cain' or 'Madame Kelu' as fencing with Henry Angelo or 'M. Renault'. The closest is in the Yale Center for British Art (see J. Baskett and D. Snelgrove, The Drawings of Thomas Rowlandson in the Paul Mellon Collection, 1977, p.35 no.115, illustrated), in which the placing of the figures is the same, as is the background, save that it is unfinished; this gives the names as Renault and 'Madame Cain', perhaps an anglicization of Culleoni, while a variant in reverse (sold at Christie's London, 31 March 1978, lot 85) is inscribed 'Madame Cullu', presumably another variation of the same name, and dated 8 February 1816. A variant with pictures on the walls is inscribed 'Mme Culleoni, Mons. Renault Grand Assault, Paris' (sold Sotheby's London, 22 March 1979, lot 57, illustrated). From this confused evidence we are perhaps justified in assuming that Madame Culleoni is shown fighting either Monsieur Renault or Henry Angelo in Angelo's Academy on 8 February 1816.
What may be the original, outline drawing of the composition of our drawing is in the Huntington Art Museum, San Marino (see R. Wark, Drawings by Thomas Rowlandson in the Huntington Collection, San Marino, 1975, pp.118-9, no.480, illustrated).