Nigeria’s ‘Mona Lisa’ Returns Home

By CultureBanx Team

  • Ben Enwonwu’s famed “Tutu” was loaned to the Art X Lagos fair

  • The painting sold for a record $1.57M, the highest-valued work of Nigerian modern art

Nigeria’s best-known modern artist Ben Enwonwu’s famed “Tutu” painting is being shown in the country for the first time since it disappeared. Originally painted in 1974, it went missing the next year and finally re-surfaced in February in north London.

Tutu.jpg

Why This Matters: “Tutu” was loaned to the Art X Lagos fair for a weekend showing by Access Bank earlier this month. Enwonwu is etched in Nigeria’s art history, but his work has not drawn the auction prices to match his stature. Part of the reason for this mismatch in pricing and stature could be Nigeria’s art market still finding its footing on the global stage.

Enwonwu’s low prices may change after the recent sale of his most famous work “Tutu,” which is often compared to the Mona Lisa, for a record $1.57 million. Reuters reported the sale made it the highest-valued work of Nigerian modern art sold at auction.

Tutu’ is referred to as the African ‘Mona Lisa’ by virtue of this disappearance and re-emergence

“Tutu’ is referred to as the African ‘Mona Lisa’ by virtue of this disappearance and re-emergence, and it is the first work of a modern Nigerian artist to sell for over a million pounds,” said Tokini Peterside, Art X Lagos fair. The original Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. The thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, eventually took it to Italy, where it was recovered and in 1914 and returned to the Louvre.

Situational Awareness: Nigeria’s art market will need a range of stakeholders investing in the space to reach the next level in prominence. Auction houses like Sotheby’s are conducting art valuations in the country. This increased attention international along with local support could lead to us hearing more Nigerian artists names at auctions in the future.

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