Competing Visions

The Visual Culture of the Congo Free State and Fin de Siècle Europe

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Matthew G. Stanard Berry College, USA

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Studies of the visual culture of the Congo Free State (CFS) have focused overwhelmingly yet narrowly on the “atrocity” photograph used to criticize Leopold II's colonial misrule. This article presents a new picture of the visual culture of Leopold II's Congo Free State by examining a broader, more heterogeneous range of fin de siècle images of varied provenance that comprised the visual culture of the CFS. These include architecture, paintings, African artwork, and public monuments, many of which were positive, pro-Leopoldian images emphasizing a favorable view of colonialism. The visual culture of the CFS was imbued with recurring themes of violence, European heroism, and anti-Arab sentiment, and emerged from a unique, transnational, back-and-forth process whereby Leopold and his critics instrumentalized images to counter each other and achieve their goals.

Contributor Notes

Matthew G. Stanard is Professor of History at Berry College. His most recent books are The Leopard, the Lion, and the Cock: Colonial Memories and Monuments in Belgium (Leuven, 2019) and (with Berny Sèbe) Decolonising Europe? Popular Responses to the End of Empire (London, 2020). Email:

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