Two paintings by the late Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu, have now fetched over N1billion at auctions in the UK.
The first that was auctioned in March 2018 was Tutu; it fetched $1.6million after it was discovered at a London flat. Nigerian novelist Ben Okri had described Tut as the “African Mona Lisa”.
Adetutu Ademiluyi, the subject of the painting, was an Ife Princess.
The second painting is named Christine. It was sold at a Sothebys auction on Tuesday for $1.4million. It was initially listed for $200,000.
Done in 1971 by Enwonwu in Lagos, the painting had been in the Texas home of the family of the sitter for decades.
Christine Elizabeth Davis, the subject of the painting, was an American hairstylist of West Indian descent. Christine travelled a lot in her life, working in Ghana before moving to Lagos with her British husband in 1969. There, they befriended Enwonwu and Christine’s husband commissioned the work as a gift for his wife in 1971 before they eventually moved back to the US a few years later.
The work was completed in under a week as Christine was able to hold her pose for as long as needed. Christine, who was in her mid-30s at the time, passed away in Texas thereafter. But the painting has remained in the family ever since.
Recently a family member stumbled on the paint and googled the name of the artist, only to find that it was Enwonwu, Africa’s best-known artist of the 20th century.
Altogether, the two paints have been sold for $3million, about N1.084billion.
It is not clear whether the survivors of Enwonwu will get any consideration for the works or whether all the proceeds will go to the owners at the point of sale.
Enwonwu, who died in 1994, is considered the father of Nigerian modernism.
He made three paintings of ‘Tutu,’ the locations of all of which had been a mystery until the recent discovery.
The works became symbols of peace following the clash of ethnic groups in the Nigerian-Biafran conflict of the late 1960s.