Japan (possibly) China (possibly)
Museum no. A.926-1910
The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sashes by a silk cord. Netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated being the katabori (shape carving), a three-dimensional carving, such as this one in the form of a double gourd with a monkey. From the mid 18th century onwards, customers increasingly demanded imaginative and innovative netsuke. The top of this gourd lifts off to reveal a chain, clinging to which are two small monkeys, which can be pulled out and pushed back inside. The gourd, interlinking chain and monkeys are all carved from a solid piece of ivory. Such work demanded enormous skill and was typical of 19th and 20th century Chinese workmanship. Netsuke had to be small and not too heavy, yet bulky enough to do the job. They needed to be compact with no sharp protruding edges, yet also strong and hard-wearing. Above all, they had to have the means for attaching a cord. Although this carving complies with all these criteria, it was probably not intended as a functioning netsuke and is likely to have been made in China, where people did not use netsuke. It is a typical example of the unashamed quest of late 19th-century netsuke for both novelty and technical excellence, often at the expense of practicality.