A long-lost masterpiece by Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu sold yesterday for £1.2 million ($1.67 million) at “Africa Now,” the first-ever evening sale of contemporary African art at Bonhams London. The 1974 painting, titled Tutu, depicts Adetutu Ademiluyi, a Nigerian royal princess. Hammered down to an anonymous phone bidder after a 20-minute bidding war, it is now the most expensive Nigerian Modernist work ever sold at auction.

The painting had been assumed lost for decades before the family that owned it invited a Bonhams specialist to appraise it late last year. “I was absolutely staggered when I first saw the piece. The owners, who had inherited it, had no idea of its current value,” Giles Peppiatt, the director of African art at Bonhams, told Nigerian novelist Ben Okri in the Financial Times.

The painting is “the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over 50 years,” Okri wrote. “It is the only authentic Tutu, the equivalent of some rare archaeological find.” Read more