By Chris Onuoha
In less than three days’ time, Africa’s most celebrated iconic masterpiece done by Nigerian renowned artist, late Ben Enwonwu, will be going for auction both in London and Lagos simultaneously. Tutu, a portrait of the Ife royal Princess Adetutu Ademiluyi painted in 1974, leads Bonhams Africa Now sale in London on Wednesday 28 February at location 101 New Bond Street London at 5.00 p.m. London time, and in Lagos at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, at 6.00 p.m. Lagos time. The masterpiece’s price is estimated at £200,000 – £300,000.
The painting, currently seen as Africa’s pride and most valued art piece will lead other works from the continent that include Yusuf Grillo’s The Three Evangelists, a rare work from the 1960s in the artist’s characteristic blue palate that depicts the three evangelists Cymbal, Triangle and Tambourine, estimated at £50,000 – 80,000 and El-Anatsui’s Riga Sequence, estimates to fetch £30,000 – 50,000. Other works scheduled for this auction are Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba’s Untitled, Chéri Samba’s La Democratie?, Gonçalo Mabunda’s A throne for two kings, Uzo Egonu’s Stateless People and George Osodi’s Gas Flare 3 series. The sale also includes a sketch made by Enwonwu for his portrait sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II, commissioned to commemorate her visit to Nigerian in 1956.
In a pioneering move, the sale will also be broadcast live to a Bonhams auction event in Lagos, where collectors will be able to bid in real time. This is the first time ever an international auction house has relayed a sale to Nigeria for local participation.
Enwonwu painted three versions of Tutu during 1973–74, and the image became a symbol of national reconciliation for a country struggling for unity in the wake of the Nigerian–Biafran conflict of the late 1960s. All three paintings had been considered lost until the discovery of the current picture for sale. The series was of great personal significance to Enwonwu. The first painting, executed in 1973, remained in the artist’s studio until his death in 1994. It was lost at some point after that, and its current whereabouts are unknown. The location of the third Tutu painting is also a mystery, leaving the work for sale at Bonhams as the only known example of the image.
Bonhams Director of Modern African Art, Giles Peppiatt, who was in Lagos to finalise auction arrangements in an exclusive chat with Vanguard Arts & Reviews said, “The portrait of Tutu is a national icon in Nigeria, and of huge cultural significance. It is very exciting to have discovered the only painting of the series that we now know still exists. Its appearance on the market is a momentous event and we expect it to generate enormous interest.
“Tutu is probably the most bought piece of painting in Nigerian art that I have seen in my 25 years career in the art business. It will always be the most expensive painting that comes to the market from Africa. There’s no doubt that after this sale, the value will worth more than ten times its original value. With this auction coming up so, it will always appreciates more and more in many years to come.”
Speaking on how African art should be viewed in the global market, Peppiatt said, “It is a game changer. I really do believe that this will change the way people in the West, UK, Europe, and all over the world where art thrives perceive African art from now. If this piece makes the impact that we all expect it to make at the auction market, I think, people will now see African art, Nigerian art in different perspective.”
Meanwhile, Princess Ronke Ademiluyi has revealed that the painted woman ‘Princess Adetutu Ademiluyi’ married with a different name and family probably in her late 60s is alive and lives somewhere in the city. “It is expected that she will make an appearance soon,” she said.
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest and most renowned auctioneers, offering fine art and antiques, motor cars and jewelry. The main salerooms are in London, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, with auctions also held in Knightsbridge, Edinburgh, Paris, San Francisco and Sydney. With a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 22 countries, Bonhams offers advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas.