A £300k African art masterpiece lost for almost 50 years has been found in an English home

Nigerian artist Benedict Enwonwu’s legendary portrait “Tutu” has been recovered from a north London apartment, where it has been hanging for over 30 years, that is until December 2017.

Tutu is a portrait of a young African woman tying a head tie and looking over her shoulder, capturing the imperceptible moment in which a girl changes into a woman. The masterpiece is named after the woman herself – Adetutu Ademiluyi, grand daughter of a previous Ooni of Ife, whom Enwonwu met while walking down the streets of the western town of Ile-Ife.

Expressing how he felt about Tutu, Giles Peppiatt, director of modern African art at Bonhams said, “I was absolutely staggered when I first saw the piece. The owners who inherited it had no idea of its current value”.

Tutu
Tutu. Credit: Bonhams

The portrait which became symbol of national reconciliation for a country struggling for unity in the wake of the Nigerian–Biafran conflict of the late 1960s, was part of a royal series of three versions of Tutu painted within 1973-74 which were presumed lost, while its reproductions beautified the walls of many Nigerian homes.

Enwonwu who died in 1994 had been one of the most important African artists. Born in 1917 in eastern Nigeria, he inherited the spirit of sculpture, working in a variety of forms as a painter, sculptor and draughtsman, his first group of African arts showing at the Zwemmer Gallery in London in the 1940s. Tutu would go down history as one of his famous paintings.

Benedict Enwonwu, a Member of the British Empire, sculpting an statue of the Queen of England (Photo Credit: Nigeria Association Edinburgh)

The recovery of the legendary African painting that had been lost for almost 50 years, has been described as a significant cultural event which could alter the perception of African art.

Writing in the spring edition of Bonhams Magazine, Nigerian-born Booker Prize winning novelist Ben Okri, said, “it amounts to the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over fifty years. 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 rediscovered art, now valued at an estimate of £200,000 – £300,000, is now being offered during the Bonham’s “Africa Now” auction in London on the 28th of February, 2018. The sale will be broadcast live to a Bonhams auction event in Lagos, Nigeria, where bidders will be able to participate in real time.