Ben Enwonwu MBE black Mona Lisa’s work sold for $1.7 million in 2017

Ben Enwonwu MBE black Mona Lisa’s work sold for $1.7 million in 2017

A 1974 painting of a Nigerian princess Adetutu “Tutu” Ademiluyi by renowned Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu MBE, which had been lost for nearly four decades, and was found in December has been sold at Bonham’s auction house in London for US$1.7 million.

Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu MBE, also known as Ben Enwonwu MBE is a pioneer in African modernist art movement. The artist gained prominence after he was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Nigeria in 1956.

Bonham’s director of modern African art Giles Peppiatt found the painting when he went to appraise artwork at a “modest north London flat.”

“The portrait of Tutu is a national icon in Nigeria, and of huge cultural significance,” Peppiatt said, according to BBC. “I am delighted that it generated so much interest and set a new world record for the artist. It is very exciting to have played a part in the discovery and sale of this remarkable work.”

“On discovering the long-missing work,” Peppiatt told the CNN. “I felt a little like Howard Carter peering into Tutankhamen’s tomb. When Carter was asked by Lord Carnarvon ‘What can you see?’, Carter replied ‘Wonderful things… Wonderful things.’ And so it was for me on that dark December night.”

Enwonwu was born in Umuese-Aroli, Onitsha, Nigeria in 1917, and later went on to study at the Goldsmith College in London in 1944, and Ruskin College, Oxford, from 1944 to 1946, pioneered in African modernist art movement.

The painter completed three versions of the piece based on Tutu, the other two are yet to be found. Enwonwu’s son, Oliver, told the AFP, “We are very happy that modern Nigerian art has begun to get its actual value.”

Ademiluyi is a symbol of national reconciliation after the 1967-1970 Biafran War. She was a granddaughter of a revered traditional ruler from the Yoruba ethnic group.

Enwonwu belonged to the Igbo ethnic group, the largest ethnic group in the southeastern region of Nigeria that had tried to secede under the name of Biafra. The Yoruba people, whose homeland is in the southwest, were mostly on the opposing side in the war.

Acclaimed Booker-prize winning Nigerian novelist, Ben Okri, known for his writings in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions said the painting’s discovery was “the most significant in contemporary African art in 50 years.”


Benedict Chukwuka Enwonwu
Born 14 July 1917
Born where – Onitsha, Anambra, Nigeria
Died 5 February 1994 (aged 76)

This portrait of the Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi (Tutu), painted by Enwonwu in 1973 went missing since 1975, was rediscovered in 2017 in a London flat. It was sold for £1,205,000 in an auction held by Bonhams. The portrait of Tutu, one of the three made by the painter, is a Nigerian national icon and considered a reconciliation symbol between the government and Biafran separatists after the civil war.

Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu MBE (14 July 1917 – 5 February 1994), better known as Ben Enwonwu, was a Nigerian painter and sculptor. Arguably the most influential African artist of the 20th century, his pioneering career opened the way for the postcolonial proliferation and increased visibility of modern African art. He was one of the first African artists to win critical acclaim, having exhibited in august exhibition spaces in Europe and the United States and listed in international directories of contemporary art. Since 1950, Enwonwu was celebrated as “Africa’s Greatest Artist” by the international media[1] and his fame was used to enlist support for Black Nationalists movement all over the world

Impact on the modern art world

During his time, Enwonwu was well regarded as an artist; his art is described as a “unique form of African modernism”. Ogbechie describes his art as “[the opening up of] third space in art history whose nature and parameters are at variance with art history’s exclusionary narratives of modernity and its inscription of the modern artist-subject as a white, Western European male”. Recognition of his bronze sculpture of the Queen proved that he, as an African modern artist, used his practice to develop a new kind of modern art whose ideals of representation and notions of artistic identity were different from conventional art-historical narrative of European modernist practice.


Shell Petroleum Scholarship,
Nigerian National Merit Award
Commonwealth Certificate in London
Bennett Prize
Officer of the National Order of the Republic in Senegal, and
Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

Source: (partly) – the Maston online

Other works sold:

Auction 05-22-2013 Seven Wooden Sculptures
Commissioned By The Daily Mirror In 1960 46.06 x 28.35 x 23.62 in
Unknown medium
560,077 USD

Auction 05-22-2013
The Durbar Of Eid UL-Fitr, Kano, Nigeria 33.86 x 72.05 in
Oil 299,612 USD

Auction 05-22-2013 Anyanwu 35.83 x 0 in
Bronze 206,589 USD

Auction 04-08-2009 Negritude 47.24 x 29.53 in
Acrylic 121,390 USD

Auction 03-10-2010 Dancing Boys 34.84 x 23.82 in
Oil 91,500 USD

Auction 03-16-2011 Africa Dances 29.53 x 21.06 in
Oil 83,720 USD

Auction 05-11-2015 Negritude 27.17 x 21.06 in
Print 3,025 USD

Auction 05-11-2015 Untitled 17.72 x 13.78 in
Watercolor 16,500 USD

Auction 05-11-2015 The Boxer 25.00 x 0 in
Wood 27,500 USD

Auction 05-11-2015 Head Of Caroline 12.99 x 0 in
Glass 33,000 USD

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