Imagine finding an almost-forgotten portrait of your mother in your family house, doing a Google search on the artist’s name and discovering that what you own is a precursor to the artist’s best-known work that sold in 2018 for $1.6 million.
This is exactly what happened very recently to one of the members of the Davis family in Texas.
The portrait, Christine, is the latest remarkable find of work by one of the most revered African artists of the 20th century, Ben Enwonwu. The captivating sitter is Christine Elizabeth Davis, an American hair stylist of West Indian descent. Christine travelled a lot in her life, working in Ghana before moving to Lagos with her British husband in 1969. There, they befriended Enwonwu and Christine’s husband commissioned the work as a gift for his wife in 1971 before they eventually moved back to the US a few years later.
The work was completed in under a week as Christine was able to hold her pose for as long as needed. Christine, who was in her mid-30s at the time, passed away in Texas thereafter. But the painting has remained in the family ever since. The portrait is valued at up to £150,000 ($200,000) and will be on auction at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction on Oct. 15 in London.
Ben Enwonwu was a Nigerian artist whose career spanned 60 years seeing the journey of Nigeria from a British colony to an independent nation. His story is unique in that not only did he become famous in his own country, but also in the UK where he studied. In Nigeria, he is best known for his famed depictions of Nigerian royal princess Adetutu Ademiluyi (Tutu), often dubbed the ‘Nigerian Mona Lisa.’ Prints of Tutu adorn the walls of living rooms across Nigeria.
The 2017 discovery of Tutu is an equally fascinating story as the discovery of Christine. The long-lost painting was found in a modest London flat and the owners had no idea of its importance or value. It sold at a record $1.6 million in 2018.
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