In 1974, the portrait of a royal princess of Ife, Adetutu Ademiluyi, known as Tutu was painted by Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu, who created three versions of the painting.
All the paintings were considered lost until Giles Peppiatt, director of modern and contemporary African art at Bonhams auction house, found one at the home of a family in London late last year.
Tutu’s portrait was first painted in 1973 and remained in Ben’s studio until his death in 1994 when it suddenly went missing.
“When I wound up at this normal, modest apartment in north London, it was quite a shock. I immediately was as sure as I could be that this was the lost picture that people had been talking about and looking for. This is probably the most famous painting to come out of Africa. People have been referring to it as the ‘African Mona Lisa,’ and I wouldn’t challenge that,” Peppiatt said, revealing how he found the painting.
The owners, who want to be anonymous, inherited the painting from their father and never knew it was an original until its authenticity was confirmed.
“Tutu” will lead Bonhams’ “Africa Now” auction in London on Feb. 28, and the painting is expected to bring in as much as 300,000 British pounds, or more than $410,000, which would be a record sum for a modern Nigerian painting. The event will be broadcast live in Lagos, and bidders will be able to participate in real time.
“It’s an enormously important moment for Africa,” Peppiatt said.
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