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Art

Nigerian Artist’s Missing Painting Sells For $1.6M

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Ben Enwonwu/ Bonhams "Tutu"

Ben Enwonwu/ Bonhams “Tutu”  

A famous painting that went missing for decades before turning up in a London apartment has sold for over $1.6 million (£1,205,000). Often dubbed the “African Mona Lisa,” Ben Enwonwu’s “Tutu” smashed sale estimates at an auction in London on Wednesday.

One of a triptych of artworks created by Enwonwu during the aftermath of Nigeria’s bloody civil war, “Tutu” disappeared shortly after being painted in 1974. Its whereabouts remained the subject of intense speculation for over 40 years. However, the portrait was discovered in a family home late last year.

Depicting the Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi (abbreviated as “Tutu”), the painting was subsequently authenticated and went under the hammer as part of Bonhams’ “Africa Now” sale. The London auction house initially predicted a price tag of between £200,000 and £300,000 ($275,000 to $413,000). This is less than a quarter of the final bid.

According to Bonhams, “Tutu” was painted after Ben Enwonwu encountered the princess walking in the Nigerian countryside. Consequently, the artist created two other pictures of Ademiluyi, both of which remain missing.

The paintings grew in fame not only for their beauty but for the mystery surrounding their disappearance. The eventual discovery of “Tutu” is partly thanks to the efforts of Giles Peppiatt, Director of African art at Bonhams, who for years made it his mission to find them. People brought him a number of prints but they all transpired to be fakes. Then one day in December 2017, he finally found the real thing.

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