Stories By John Meze
Ben Enweonwu’s long-lost masterpiece known as ‘Tutu’, a 1974 portrait of Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi has made a record-breaking sale at auction for amount said to be unprecedented in the history of the sales of African Art works in London.
The portrait which was described as ‘the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over fifty years’, was stolen fron Nigeria, believably by art work poachers who are even known to have stolen ancestral deities in country.
In the art industry the work is held to be one of the many great art works done by ancestry and contemporary artists in the country which were stolen by indigenous art thieves in collusion with British as well as other European art thieves, who often times engineer thievery.
The Ben Enwonwu’s , work was lost for more than 40 years before being discovered in a London flat late last year 2017.
The work, which was not expected to exceed £300,00 in price, sold for a record-breaking £1,205,00 being the highest for a modern Nigerian artist.
According to an art dealer at the Bonhams’ Africa Now auction, London in a statement the painting was sold to an anonymous telephone bidder after a “20-minute bidding frenzy”.
The portrait holds a particular cultural and historical significance for Nigeria because its subject was the grand-daughter of a revered Yoruba leader, while Enwonwu was an Igboman.
Enwonwu’s portrait, was seen to symbolise reconciliation between the government and Biafran separatists after the Biafran -Nigerian 30 months war.
He is knownto have painted three versions of the portrait while other two remain lost, though prints were first made in the 1970s and have been in circulation ever since.
Ben Okri, Booker Prize-winning novelist had described the work as “the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over fifty years. It is the only authentic Tutu, the equivalent of some rare archaeological find. It is a cause for celebration, a potentially transforming moment in the world of art.”
Enwonwu, was often considered Nigeria’s most renowned contemporary artist and credited as the father of Nigerian modernism, died in 1994.