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Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994)
signed "Chuka" (lower left)
oil on board
53 x 72cm (20 7/8 x 28 3/8in).
Acquired directly from the artist
Thence by descent to the current owner
During his time in Africa, the original owner became a close friend to the artist Ben Enwonwu.
There are frequent references to Enwonwu in his memoirs. The two were friendly in the years following the Second World War, at a time when Enwonwu was struggling to make a name for himself. This painting was purchased directly from the artist, thereby providing him with some financial support. He particularly appreciated Enwonwu's remarkable technical ability in rendering the figures in his paintings with a carved and sculptural feel as is seen in Workers in the Field.
An entry dated 15 January 1945, described Enwonwu's departure for the Slade School of Fine Art:
''Ben goes to Oxford today to the Slade. Before he left, I went to see him and his pictures. The second batch seems to me to be far better than the first, livelier, cleaner, and more graceful. He offered me two photographic pieces. I picked out instead a seated Hausa Mallam, pulsing with life. I asked about the entrancing Benin design, which I had seen half-finished, a series of rhythmic hoops. He said he had torn it up. I attacked the exactitude that kills, the tight detail loved by children. 'A Hausa' is better than 'the Hausa', the generalising of a moment. He smiled and agreed. The trouble is, he is so modest that he cannot think anything good comes easily to him.''
Enwonwu first adopted movement and dancing as a tool for modern abstract expressionism when he worked in Paris in the 1940s, where he shared studio space with the South African artist Gerard Sekoto. He developed the practice of overlapping one figure on top of the other with similar poses in order to generate what Sylvester Ogbechie calls a "rhythmic pattern of arms and legs". This first appeared in Enwonwu's paintings of Benin dance and rituals in 1943, and later in Sekoto's masterpiece Song of the Pick (1946-47). Enwonwu himself credited this compositional development to his study of the Harlem Renaissance aesthetics of African American Modernists Meta Warrick Fuller and Aaron Douglas, who provided a window into interpretations of tradition Egyptian art.
S. Okwunodu Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: The making of an African Modernist, (Rochester, 2008), pp.78-80