The portrait titled “Tutu” is the work of Nigeria’s best-known modern artist Ben Enwonwu, painted in 1974 and appeared at an art show in Lagos the following year but its whereabouts after that public display has been unknown until it re-surfaced in north London.
The masterpiece is a painting of Adetutu Ademiluyi, the granddaughter of a paramount traditional ruler in one of Nigeria’s dominant Yoruba ethnic group and holds special significance in Nigeria’s history as a symbol of national reconciliation after the 1967-1970 Biafran civil War.
“The fact that she’s been lost for all these years and finally discovered is, is truly an amazing thing,” said Eliza Sawyer, specialist of African art at London’s Bonhams auction house where the painting is on display.
It had come as a shock to find the painting hanging in a north London home where specialists were called to examine it, because there had been several wild goose chases in the past in search of the originals. The owners did not wish to be identified.
Enwonwu painted three versions of the portrait. The other two remain lost, although prints first made in the 1970s have been in circulation ever since and the images are familiar to many Nigerians. Enwonwu died in 1994.
The work, estimated to go for between £200 to £300k will go under the hammer on February 28 at Bonhams in London with a live streaming to Wheatbaker, a boutique hotel popular with artists in Ikoyi, a wealthy neighbourhood of Lagos.