Ben Enwonwu's 'Tutu' sells for $1.65m after 40 years of 'ghosting'

Ben Enwonwu's 'Tutu' sells for $1.65m after 40 years of 'ghosting'

Enwonwu's portrait of the Ife royal princess Adetutu Ademiluyi was part of a trio of paintings created between 1973-74. Since it was completed almost five decades ago, the painting has become a symbol of Nigerian reconciliation after the war for Biafran independence (a two-and-a-half year battle in which Biafra, a state in Southeastern Nigeria, attempted to secede from the country).

After decades of being lost, a portrait of a Nigerian princess dubbed the "African Mona Lisa" sold at a London auction this week for £1.2 million ($1.7 million), smashing initial estimates.

The famous work of renowned Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu that has been missing for decades has finally been found in a London home and was put up for auction today, BBC reports.

It was also auctioned in Lagos at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, at 6.00 p.m. Lagos time simultaneously.

The owner knew the painting was by Enwonwu but they weren't aware of its value - with Bonhams estimating it could sell for as much as £300,000.

It was the first time Bonhams would simultaneously transmit a live broadcast in Nigeria and at the same time sell a "Contemporary African Art" in the evening. Another Enwonwu painting, Negritude, sold for $140,000 (N55million) at the auction, their sales overshadowing the other works in the lot. It set a new record for African art.

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"He (Enwonwu) wasn't just painting the girl, he was painting the whole tradition".

Bonham modern art director Giles Peppiatt called the portrait a Nigerian "national icon", adding that it was "of huge cultural significance".

The paintings grew in fame not only for their beauty but for the mystery surrounding their disappearance.

Enwonwu defined a new visual language for Nigerian art and became a leading figure in African modernism.

Enwonwu studied at Goldsmith College in London in 1944 and went on to attend Ruskin College, Oxford from then until 1946.

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

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