Frederick James initially studied art in Philadelphia, then moved to Paris where his skills were refined under the tutelage of Jean-Léon Gérôme during the 1870s. While in Paris, James learned the importance of accuracy of detail, such as in costume and setting, to create an easily understood narrative style. The subject of An Impromptu Affair in the Days of the Code is a duel between a civilian and a soldier and depicts the precise moment when pistols have been drawn. Dueling was an institution imported from Europe. In the United States, during the years of the Revolution and Civil War, duels were popular in the South and were considered an aristocratic activity. The tense moment is emphasized by the overturned chairs, numerous corks strewn about the floor and empty wine glasses. The drama of the scene captivates the us, leaving us wondering about the duel's outcome.