A painting by the late Nigerian master painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu this week sold for £1.1m at an auction in the British capital, London.
The painting, simply titled “Christine”, is of Christine Davis, an American hairstylist who moved to Lagos with her British husband and struck up a friendship with the painter. “Christine” was completed in 1971.
Another work by Enwonwu, of an Ife princess Tutu, affectionately dubbed “Africa’s Mona Lisa”, was sold for £1.2m. It is considered a national masterpiece.
Celebrated Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie acknowledged in 2013 that “Tutu” hung on the wall of every middle-class family in eastern Nigeria when she was growing up.”
The Nigerian painter behind ‘Africa’s Mona Lisa’
Born in the commercial city of Onitsha, Nigeria in 1917 to a sculptor father and a successful merchant mother, Enwonwu had a gift for the arts from a young age.
In 1956, the young artist was commissioned to do an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the first African artist ever to produce an official portrait of any European monarch.
Enwonwu took creative liberty with the Queen’s lips and made them fuller, creating controversy in the British art world.
Although the Queen publicly endorsed the sculpture, Enwonwu was criticised in some quarters for “Africanising” the Queen.
At some point, he was widely regarded as arguably the most decorated African artist in the 1950s and 1960s