Bonhams : Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994) Tutu (1974)
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994) Tutu (1974)

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Lot 62*
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E
(Nigerian, 1917-1994)
Tutu (1974)

Sold for £ 320,750 (US$ 414,796) inc. premium
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994)
Tutu (1974)
oil on canvas
signed and dated 'Ben Enwonwu/ 1974' (lower right)
51 x 41cm (20 1/16 x 16 1/8in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Purchased directly from the artist for c. N.600 by a Doctor of Medicine in 1976.


    This portrait depicts Enwonwu's most famous sitter, Adetutu ('Tutu') Ademiluyi, the granddaughter of a former Ooni (king) of Ife. The artist encountered the young woman whilst he was teaching at the University of Ife (1972-1975).

    The first version of the painting was executed in 1973. It was one of Enwonwu's most prized possessions. Despite numerous offers, he refused to sell the work. His son, Oliver, recalls how his father hung it on his bedroom wall, and even locked it in a crate under his bed, to keep it from public view.

    In 1994, the 1973 portrait went missing. The loss was a devastating blow to Enwonwu, who was then in the advanced stages of cancer. The painting was reproduced as a print; it now hangs in many Nigerian homes, a national icon.

    Enwonwu executed two further portraits of Tutu in 1974 (one of which was sold in our salerooms in February 2018), and the present lot. All three works show the young woman with her back to us, looking over her shoulder. She wears traditional Yoruba attire, and her hair is covered by a richly-patterned head tie. Her proud posture communicates her regal status. However, there are a few key differences between the paintings. This version is more diminutive and intimate than the other iterations. Tutu inclines her head so that the soft curve of her left cheek is visible. Of all the portraits, this is the most human.

    The current owner of the painting first met Enwonwu in the popular Lagos nightclub, the Caban Bamboo, established by the Highlife musician Bernard "Bobby" Benson. The two men quickly struck up a friendship that would last until Enwonwu's death in 1994. The artist's son, Oliver Enwonwu, confirms that his father respected the doctor, and would not have parted with the portrait for a lesser acquaintance.

    We are grateful to Oliver Enwonwu from the Ben Enwonwu Foundation for his assistance with this catalogue entry.
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