A painting by renowned Nigerian artist has been auctioned for $1.4 million in the United Kingdom. Ben Enwonwu painted the masterpiece in Lagos in 1971; he christened the piece “Christine”. He is a 20th century master of African modernism, a renowned artist and freedom fighter.
Interestingly, the painting has been hanging on the wall in the family house back in Nigeria since 1971, as the family did not know its worth.
“The family was unaware of the significance of the painting or the importance of the artist until a chance “googling” of the signature led them to Sotheby’s free Online Estimate Platform,” said the London auction house.
The family was surprised that the painting fetched more than seven times the pre-auction estimate. After a short deliberation among art collectors, the piece sold for £1.1 million (1.3 million Euros, $1.4 million).
The work precedes the artist’s 1974 painting of Ife royal princess Adetutu “Tutu” Ademiluyi. The portrait of that African princess was recently found in a London flat after it has been declared missing for decades.
The portrait is a national icon in Nigeria, with Booker Prize-winning novelist Ben Okri telling AFP that it is “the African Mona Lisa”.
Ben Enwonwu, who died on 5 February 1994 in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria is considered the father of Nigerian modernism.
According to reports, Enwonwu made three paintings of “Tutu”. Their locations have been a mystery until the recent discovery.
The works became symbols of peace following the clash of ethnic groups in the Nigerian-Biafran war of the late 1960s.
About Ben Enwonwu
Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu MBE, better known as Ben Enwonwu, was a Nigerian painter and sculptor. Arguably the most influential African artist of the 20th century, his pioneering career opened the way for the postcolonial proliferation and increased the visibility of modern African art.
He was born on 14 July 1917 in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. He died on 5 February 1994, Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria.
His famous artworks include; Girls in waiting, Yoruba women pounding cassava, and many more.