Nigerian art work bought for $1.4m in London

Ben Enwonwu’s ‘Christine’ /Photo: Sotheby’s


A painting by the artist considered to be the father of Nigerian modernism has been bought for $1.4 million (£1.1million) at an auction in London after the owners googled the artist’s signature, BBC reported on Wednesday.

Ben Enwonwu’s “Christine”, painted in 1971 in Lagos, had been in the home of the family of the owner of the painter since then, BBC qouted auction house Sotheby’s as saying.

But following the passage of time they “were unaware of the significance of the painting or the importance of the artist, until a chance ‘googling’ of the signature,” it added.

Enwonwu, who died in 1994, also produced “Tutu”, which had been described by Nigerian novelist, Ben Okri, as the “African Mona Lisa”. Tutu was sold last year for $1.5million after it was discovered in a London flat.

Christine, the subject of the painting that has just been sold, was born in New York but moved to Ghana in her late 20s to live with her step-father.

She then moved to Lagos in 1969 where she struck up a friendship with the artist.

Enwonwu was a student at Goldsmiths, Ruskin College, and the Slade art school in the UK in the 1940s.

He became more widely known when he was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Nigeria in 1956.

Spanning close to 60 years, Ben Enwonwu’s artistic career followed one of the most important periods of Modern Nigerian history; the journey from a British colony to a newly independent African nation. Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom on 1 October 1960, and with it the country was in search of a new post-colonial identity.

Born in 1917 in Onitsha, eastern Nigeria, Enwonwu became an advocate for a new national culture and a pioneer of African modernism.

Born to a mother who ran a successful textile business and a father who was a retired technical assistant and a reputable sculptor, from whom the artist learned his early carving skills. In addition to being an acclaimed painter and sculptor, the artist was also a distinguished writer and art critic.

The artist is still considered one of the most revered African artists of the 20th century.

Sola Jolaoso

More on the painting on Sotheby’s website

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