Anyanwu by the pioneering Nigerian sculptor and painter, Ben Enwonwu, leads Bonhams Africa Now – Modern Africa Sale in London on Wednesday 15 February 2017. Widely considered the artist’s masterpiece, the 6ft 10 high statue is estimated at £150,000-200,000.
Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994) first conceived of Anyanwu – the Igbo word for ‘sun’ – in 1954, when he was commissioned to create a work marking the establishment of the National Museum in Lagos, outside of which it still stands. He made a number of versions of the statue in different sizes over many years – subtly altering the concept with each edition – but this is the first full-sized cast to come to auction. It is from the second edition cast in 1956, and is believed to be the only one of this size from the second edition in existence.
He described his vision for Anyanwu as follows: “My aim was to symbolise our rising nation. This sculpture is spiritual in conception, rhythmical in movement and three dimensional in its architectural setting – these qualities are characteristic of the sculptures of my ancestors.”
A later edition of Anyanwu was presented by the Nigerian Government to the United Nations in 1966, a few days after Nigeria celebrated the sixth anniversary of its independence. The statue is currently displayed on the second floor of the UN HQ building in New York.
Bonhams Director of African Art, Giles Peppiatt, said, “Ben Enwonwu was the first important Nigerian artist to reflect the sculptural traditions of his people in his work as is clearly and spectacularly evident in Anyanwu. For the artist, the statue was a visual manifestation of the new Nigeria, culturally confident and proud of her heritage.”
Enwonwu also has a significant reputation as a painter – Bonhams holds the world auction record of £218,500 for a work by the artist on canvas set in May 2016 – and this vital aspect of his creative life is represented in the sale by The Glory of Ancient Benin, Song of the City estimated at £70,000-100,000 and African Dancers estimated at £50,000-80,000.
Other works in the sale include:
The Duet, by the Nigerian painter Yusuf Grillo (b 1934) estimated at £70,000-100,000. The picture is characteristic of the artist’s celebrated style, with its graceful elongated figures and rich yet serene colours. Grillo’s Mother of Twins sold for £146,500 in May 2016 setting a new world record at auction for a work by the painter.
On Grandma’s Cloth, a wooden sculpture by the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui (b 1944) estimated at £50,000-80,000. In May 2016 Used Towel by El Anatsui sold for £176,500, establishing a new record at auction for a wooden sculpture by the sculptor.
Image: Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994), African Dancers estimated at £50,000-80,00