Gérôme started work on this canvas in 1846 when he was still smarting from his failure to win the Prix de Rome which would have opened the doors of the Villa Medicis to him. He feared a new rebuff and hesitated to exhibit his Young Greeks Attending a Cock Fight. But, encouraged by his master, the academic painter Delaroche, he finally entered his painting in the Salon of 1847, where it was a great success.
In the "Neo-Grec" style, characterised by a taste for meticulous finish, pale colours and smooth brushwork, Gérôme portrays a couple of near-naked adolescents at the foot of a fountain. Their youthfulness contrasts with the battered profile of the Sphinx in the background. The same opposition is found between the luxuriant vegetation and the dead branches on the ground, and in the fight between the two roosters, one of which is doomed to die.
In the chorus of praise for the work, few commentators noticed the artist's disillusioned attitude. Hardly anyone but Baudelaire criticised the canvas, calling Gérôme the leader of the "meticulous school", and finding him weak and artificial. The public preferred the opinion of Théophile Gautier who saw in The Cock Fight "wonders of drawing, action and colour". At the age of twenty-three, Gérôme therefore made a brilliant entry into the art world and thereafter pursued the official career he had planned for himself, punctuated with honours and rewards.