By Rasheed Sobowale
Ben Enwonwu was a Nigerian artist who died on February 5, 1994. One of his painting “Christine,” is a 1971 portrait of an American missionary wife reported to be of the Carribean-origin.
The painting originally estimated to sell for about $200,000 surprised everyone when it was auctioned for $1.4 million at Sotheby, London.
Full name, Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu was referred to as one of the most influential African artists of the 20th century. He was a painter and sculptor and most of his works gave Africa arts a wide exposure.
Internationally, Enwonwu was regarded as the “Africa Greatest Artist” according to his Wikipedia page “and his fame was used to enlist support for Black Nationalists movement all over the world. The Enwonwu crater on the planet Mercury is named in his honour.”
Who auctioned “Christine”?
Christine was reported to have been hung on the missionary wife’s family home wall after her death. A stepson who is oblivious of the origin of the portrait contacted Sotheby’s auction to enquire if it had any value whatsoever, only to be surprised at how it all ended ― originally estimated by the auction house at $200,000 (N69 million) to being sold at $1.4 million (N506 million).
The missionary wife, Christine Elizabeth Davis was a hairstylist of West Indian descent. She moved from Accra, Ghana to Lagos with her British missionary husband, Elvis Davis. She’s the late stepmother of the present owners, according to Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa.
The time (1971) when Enwowu painted the artwork was the same year he was appointed as the first professor of Fine Arts at the University of Ife around the same time.
Christine is not Enwonwu’s work that will be valued at over a million dollar. “Tutu” another portrait drawn by Enwonwu was reportedly sold for $1.6 million at Bonham, London in March 2018. “Tutu” is a portrait of Adetutu, a royal of popular and ancient Yoruba town, Ile-Ife.
The Davis family members were reported to have done a Google search of the signature on Christine painting which revealed it was done by the same artist who worked on “Tutu”.
Enwonwu was reported to have worked on Christine less than a week.