For decades, the painting titled “Tutu” by Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu was believed to be lost. Painting aficionados and museums were looking for the acclaimed masterpiece featuring a Nigerian royal princess but to no avail. The painting that was once lost but discovered and appraised last year now has a new owner after a 20-minute bidding war.
According to Artnet News, “Tutu” has been sold for a sum of £1.2 million or $1.67 million to an unnamed phone bidder. Its staggering price makes it the most expensive modern Nigerian artwork to be sold at an auction.
It was auctioned off during the “Africa Now” sale, where Bonhams London sold modern African artworks. Alongside “Tutu,” 20 other artworks from Enwonwu were also featured at the sale.
More than four decades have passed since the last public exhibition of the painting as the last time it was up for viewing was in 1975 at the Italian embassy in Lagos.
Before resurfacing to the public, the painting was owned by a family who had no idea how valuable it was. The family acquired it as an inheritance, and it was only last year that they called upon a specialist at Bonhams London to get the painting appraised.
A report from CNN stated that one of the key people that led the search for the painting is Bonhams director of African art Giles Peppiatt. While looking for the artwork, he encountered a few fakes. In December 2017, he received a tip that the artwork was in a North London flat.