Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994) The Glory of Ancient Benin, Song of the City
Lot 24*
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E
(Nigerian, 1917-1994)
The Glory of Ancient Benin, Song of the City
Sold for £75,000 (US$ 98,213) inc. premium

Lot Details
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994)
The Glory of Ancient Benin, Song of the City
signed, titled and dated 'The Glory of Ancient Benin/ Song of the City/ Ben Enwonwu/ 1942-1989' (lower left); inscribed 'No. 29' (verso)
oil on canvas
121 x 92cm (47 5/8 x 36 1/4in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Acquired from the artist, circa 1991.
    Private collection, Lagos.

    Exhibited
    Lagos, Nigerian National Museum, The Art of Ben Enwonwu: a retrospective, July 1991.

    Illustrated
    S. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: the Making of an African Modernist, (Rochester, 2008), p.212.


    Enwonwu's Song of the City series explores the changing status of Nigeria's kingdoms following European colonization. Benin City was the capital of one of the oldest and most developed pre-colonial empires in Africa. It was established in Southern Nigeria in the 11th century. The city was famed for its surrounding walls. Extending for some 16,000km, they were an unprecedented feat of engineering in the middle ages. The city's decline began in the 15th century after European traders stirred up internal conflicts. It was then razed to the ground by British soldiers in 1897.

    Enwonwu began painting The Glory of Ancient Benin in 1941, whilst Nigeria was still under British colonial rule. It depicts a group of dancing female figures attired in traditional Benin dress. The striking red dress of the central dancer stands in stark contrast to the blue background. The dynamism and grace of the figures symbolize the achievements of the ancient kingdom. For Enwonwu, dance was a metaphor for pre-colonial African life and culture; a way of celebrating his heritage.

    The painting was positively received by the Nigerian art establishment when it was exhibited at the 1991 retrospective in Lagos. For many, the work exemplified Enwonwu's contribution to Nigerian art, applying the principles of European Modernism to traditional themes and motifs. One reviewer commented that:

    "(Enwonwu's) artistic journey and career has been, in part, a history of the progressive accomodation of modernism in contemporary Nigerian art on the one hand-and on the other, deliberate and rational engagement in the preservation of tradition." (Odunlami, 'Ben Enwonwu: A Review of the 70th Birthday Exhibition')

    Bibliography
    S. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: the Making of a Modernist, (Rochester, 2008), pp. 73-75, 212.
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