The long-lost “Tutu” painting by the late Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu has sold in London for more than USD$1.66 million, following the “Africa Now” auction held Wednesday evening.
Bonhams in London, which handled the sale of Tutu, said the high bid was more than four times the high estimate of its value, which was put at $413,500. The buyer’s name was not disclosed.
“The portrait of Tutu is a national icon in Nigeria,” said Giles Peppiatt, the director for Modern & Contemporary African Art for Bonhams.
Enwonwu painted three versions of Tutu during 1973–74, and the image became a national symbol in a Nigeria struggling for unity in the wake of the Biafra conflict. All three paintings had been considered lost until the discovery of the newly sold work.
The first painting, completed 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 unknown, leaving the work auctioned at Bonhams as the only known example of the image.
“It amounts to the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over fifty years,” said Nigerian-born novelist Ben Okri, writing for Bonhams. “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.”
The sale also included other Enwonwu works, a group of figurative sculptures completed by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui in 1995, and work by Mozambican Gonçalo Mabunda.
A complete list of auction results is available here.