Tutu: The African Monalisa
by Damilola Adedeji
The artwork by Ben Enwonwu titled Tutu is a symbol of Nigerian Pride. It was painted in 1947 and is the portrait of Ile-Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi. The painting, which was last seen in 1957 added to the mystery as it, only resurfaced in 2018 in a London flat.
It is recorded that Ben Enwonwu painted three different versions of Tutu and they all went missing until it resurfaced this year. The background to the story details that the painter would go around local villages and sketch local scenes and figures, and on one of such occasions he encountered the princess and unaware of her status requested to do her portrait.
This painting is a symbol of reconciliation because the painter was Igbo and the princess was from the Yoruba tribe and was known all over Nigeria especially after the bloody Nigerian- Biafran war.
Giles Peppiatt, director of Modern African Art at Bonhams, discovered the portrait after a north London family contacted him due to recent sales of Nigerian artworks. The father of the North London family bought the portrait in 1957 when it was auctioned at the Italian embassy in Lagos Nigeria.
Ben who was born on the 14th July 1921 was regarded as the father of Nigerian Modernism. He was the son of a renowned sculptor and it was shown that he quickly picked up the art.
Other works of Ben Enwonwu included Yoruba women pounding cassava, Girls in waiting and African dances Shadows of Rhythms amongst others. Sadly, Ben Enwonwu died on the 5th of February 1994 at the age of 73 in Ikoyi, Lagos.
The artwork was estimated to be sold for around 250,000 euros to 282, 000 euros but it surpassed the estimate given. The portrait was auctioned on the 28th of February 2018 at London and Lagos jointly by the Bonham’s African art department in London.
The painting was finally auctioned off the whopping sum of 1.4 million Euros. This is a precedent for the painter and the masterpiece which represented a symbol of pride for Nigeria.
Damilola Adedeji is a communicator who enjoys creative writing and political discourse. Also an advertising and public relations enthusiast.