The first Africa Now auction of 2018 takes place at Bonhams in London on Wednesday 28th February. Leading the sale is a rare portrait of Tutu by the Nigerian twentieth century artist Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E. (estimate £200,000-300,000). One of only three ever painted of the sitter, this is the first of its kind to come to auction.
Known as Adetutu Ademiluyi, Enwonwu encountered the Yoruba princess on one of his many sketching trips to the ancient city of Ife. Captivated by her appearance he immediately sought the approval of her parents to paint her portrait. The first known painting of Tutu by Enwonwu was completed in 1973 and later became a bestselling print in Nigeria. Found in many middle-class homes across the country, Tutu transformed into one of the most recognisable and cherished portraits of the region.
This newly discovered 1974 version of Tutu portrays the granddaughter of the then Ooni of Ife in a similar regal manner. Illuminated from the light behind her, she is draped heavily in fabric. Her elongated neck and upright posture emphasises both her elegance and elevated position within Yoruba society. Gazing over her shoulder and into the distance, Tutu is far removed from the viewer. Her muted expression gives little away.
The portrait is also a very rare example of a crossover of cultures. Born in Onitsha Enwonwu identified as being Igbo, contrasting with Tutu who belonged to the different Yoruba ethnic group. Despite this it conveys how Enwonwu attempted to create a degree of unity in Nigeria through his work as an artist. Even more significant so soon after the end of the Biafra war in 1970.
This version of Tutu is expected to break the world record for the artist which Bonhams originally set in 2013, when his Mirror Sculptures realised £361,250 (including premium).
The forthcoming February auction also includes Yusuf Grillo’s ‘Evangelists: Cymbal, Triangle and Tambourine’ (estimate £50,000 – 70,000). Grillo was raised in the Brazilian quarters of Lagos, an area renowned for its fun and vibrant performance culture. Surrounded by music from an early age, it inspired some of his most popular works including Drummer and Apprentice, Quarter, Trio and Drummer’s Return. The current lot depicts three individuals each playing a different musical instrument together. Their heads are turned to one another, and their feet are in movement as if they are in the middle of a dance. It also features the very distinctive icy blue palette that Grillo used so frequently in his paintings from this period.
In addition to the modern works of Enwonwu and Grillo, Bonhams will also be offering a selection of contemporary African art by the likes of El Anatsui, Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba, Goncalo Mabunda and George Osodi.