Ivory tusks carved with figures and cartoons

British Museum

British Museum

From the early nineteenth century, Kongo carvers based around the mouth of the Congo River along the Loango Coast made many ivory objects to sell to Europeans. Most impressive are the carved ivory tusks. The two earliest tusks shown here are carved with scenes of daily life. They show lines of African porters and slaves wearing neck chains, activities such as fishing and hunting, and European missionaries, traders and their wives.

The two later tusks were made during the late nineteenth-early twentieth century, a time when European demand for carved decorative ivory soared. Some African artists began to produce tusks carved entirely with European society caricatures complete with, often vulgar, captions in French. These images were probably inspired by popular European illustrations. One of the most famous illustrators of the time was a Russian-born Frenchman called Emmanuel Poiré (1859-1909), who signed himself Caran d'Ache. There seems little doubt that the European caricatures seen on these tusks were derived from the works of Caran d'Ache.

It is not known for certain where the later tusks come from. They were probably made by Kongo carvers along the Loango Coast for the European market. But it is also possible that they were made by African artists living in Europe or even by European artists copying the African-European style.

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  • Title: Ivory tusks carved with figures and cartoons
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 31.75in; Height: 80.50cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved
  • Registration number: Af1954,23.1693
  • Place: Found/Acquired Democratic Republic of Congo. Found/Acquired Lower Congo
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: ivory
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. Collected by Pareyn, Henry