Enwonwu’s famous painting “Tutu” sells for £320,750 in London

Late Ben Enwonwu, TUTU portrait
Late Ben Enwonwu, TUTU portrait

The second rediscovered version of renowned Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu’s famous painting “Tutu” on Thursday, sold for an impressive £320,750 at Bonhams‘ Africa Now sale in London.

In naira terms, it was sold for about N153 million (N152, 538,472.89).

The portrait depicts Enwonwu’s most famous sitter, Adetutu (‘Tutu’) Ademiluyi, the granddaughter of a former Ooni of Ife.

Bonhams says on its website that nine of Enwonwu’s paintings also made the top 10 slota for the 121-lot sale which achieved £1,802,625.

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques.

The first version, which was discovered at a London home after going missing for decades, was sold for £1.2 million (1.4 million euros, $1.7 million) in February.

It exceeded estimates and setting a record for the artist. It set an African record.

Works by Congolese artists, Freddy Tsimba and Patrick Bongoy also performed well. Tsimba’s Centre fermé, rêve ouvert, achieved £12,500 and Patrick Bongoy’s, Revenants III, sold for £12,500.

Other top lots include:

Rhapsody in Blue, by Ben Enwonwu sold for £112,500 (estimate £60,000-90,000).

Enwonwu’s Ogolo, signed and dated 1992 sold for £112,500 (estimate £100,000-150,000).

Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou (Benin, born 1965) Untitled triptych, ‘Demoiselles de Porto-Novo’ series more than doubled its estimate and sold for £37,500 (estimate £12,000 – 18,000).

Demas Nwoko’s Rickshaw Ride, sold for £81,250. (Estimate £60,000-90,000).

Works by Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba, performed well with Untitled, 2016, achieving £ 25,000 (estimate £10,000-15,000) and ‘Gri Gri II’ (2016) £32,500 (estimate £18,000-25,000).

The first version of the painting was executed in 1973. It was one of Enwonwu’s most prized possessions.

Despite numerous offers, he refused to sell the work. His son, Oliver, recalls how his father hung it on his bedroom wall, and even locked it in a crate under his bed, to keep it from public view.

In 1994, the 1973 portrait went missing. The loss was a devastating blow to Enwonwu. The painting was reproduced as a print; it now hangs in many Nigerian homes, a national icon.

In 1971, Enwonwu, who died in 1994, at the age of 77, was appointed the first professor of Fine Art at the University of Ife.

The Nigerian novelist, Ben Okri, said Enwonwu was already world-renowned as ”the greatest living African artist” in the summer of 1973, three years after the end of the Nigerian civil war.

He became more widely known when he was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture of the Queen during her visit to Nigeria in 1956, a work that now stands at the entrance of the parliament buildings in Lagos.

However, Tutu is regarded as his greatest masterpiece – the image was on display at his funeral in 1994.


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