Art Lovers Get Chance to Buy Long-Lost Nigerian Painting

12 February, 2018

A painting of a Nigerian princess that was lost for more than 40 years has been found in England. It will be sold at the end of February.

Nigeria's best-known modern artist, Ben Enwonwu, painted the work. It is called "Tutu."

The painting will be offered to buyers at a public auction in London. The company organizing the auction says the event will be shown in Lagos on a special video feed. That way, Nigerian art lovers in the country's largest city can make offers for the painting.

History of the painting

Enwonwu painted "Tutu" in 1974. It appeared at an art show in Lagos the following year. But there are no records of what happened to the painting after that, until it reappeared in north London.

A worker at Bonhams auctioneers poses next to
A worker at Bonhams auctioneers poses next to "Tutu," by Nigeria's best-known modern artist Ben Enwonwu, ahead of its sale, in London, Britain February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

The subject in the artwork is a Nigerian princess named Adetutu Ademiluyi. She was a granddaughter of a traditional ruler from the Yoruba ethnic group. In Nigeria, the painting came to represent a sign of national reconciliation after the Biafran War. The conflict lasted from 1967 to 1970.

Enwonwu belonged to the Igbo, the largest ethnic group in southeastern Nigeria. The Igbo attempted to break away from rest of the country under the name of Biafra. The Yoruba people, whose homeland is in the southwest, were mostly on the opposing side in the war.

Enwonwu made three versions of the painting. The other two remain lost. However, prints first made in the 1970s have been on display ever since. The images are familiar to many Nigerians.

Enwonwu died in 1994. His son, Oliver Enwonwu, is president of the Society of Nigerian Artists.

"This is a very significant discovery, given my father's contribution to Nigerian art and African art," he told the Reuters news agency.

Discovery in London home

Giles Peppiatt, an expert on modern African art, identified the painting. He works for the London auction house Bonhams.

Peppiatt said it was a shock to him to find the painting hanging in a north London home where he was called to examine it. The owners did not wish to be identified, he said.

In the past, Peppiatt noted, he has gone looking for the three paintings, but did not find them.

The auction will take place on February 28. Bonhams expects the final sale price of "Tutu" to be anywhere from $275,000 to $400,000.

"We are quite hopeful about it because the market for Nigerian modern art is really strong at the moment. I've been in the market for 12 years and it's as strong as I've ever known it," Peppiatt told Reuters.

One of the issues in setting up a live auction connecting London and Lagos could be the Nigerian city's power supplies. Power outages are a problem in Lagos, and they often affect internet connections.

Peppiatt is hoping for no problems on the day of the sale. "It's the first time anyone has done it (such an auction) so that will be rather exciting," he said.

I'm Phil Dierking.

Estelle Shirbon and Alexis Akwagyiram reported this story for the Reuters news agency. George Grow adapted their report for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

auctionn. a sale of something to the person offering the most money

reconciliationn. the act of becoming friendly again

display – n. an event in which something is shown to people

contributionn. payment for a share of something