Art world stunned after ‘African Mona Lisa’ painting goes for $1.6 million

Tutu, the iconic Nigerian portrait that was lost for decades, has sold for about $1.68 million. (QZ)
Tutu, the iconic Nigerian portrait that was lost for decades, has sold for about $1.68 million. (QZ)

A missing painting known as the “African Mona Lisa” broke records after reportedly selling for more than $1.6 million.

The artwork “Tutu” was created by Ben Enwonwu during the aftermath of Nigeria’s bloody civil war and went missing shortly after being painted in 1974. The portrait was discovered in a family home in London late last year, according to CNN.

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The African Mona Lisa painting was the subject of the Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi‘s life (abbreviated as “Tutu”). Estimated sales of the painting were projected between $275,000 to $413,000, less than a quarter of the final bid by a London auction house. However, once the painting was authenticated it shattered sales estimates.


Finding the precious princess 

Finding the Princess reportedly became a personal mission for Giles Peppiatt, Director of African art at Bonhams, who sought to find the artwork along with several other missing pieces. Many people brought him fake prints but in December of 2017 he finally came across the real “Tutu”.

According to Bonhams, “Tutu” was painted after the artist Enwonwu encountered the princess walking along the Nigerian countryside. The artist created two other pictures of Ademiluyi, both of which remain missing as well.

According to Bonhams, Peppiatt said about the African Mona Lisa: “I was absolutely staggered when I first saw the piece. The owners, who had inherited it, had no idea of its current value.” The family behind the discovery chose to remain anonymous.

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“On discovering the long-missing work,” continued Peppiatt, “I felt a little like Howard Carter peering into Tutankhamen’s tomb. When Carter was asked by Lord Carnarvon ‘What can you see?’, Carter replied ‘Wonderful things… Wonderful things.’ And so it was for me on that dark December night.”

“Tutu” was among 20 Enwonwu artworks made available at the Bonham’s sale. His paintings “Negritude” and “The Female Form” sold for $138,000 and $151,000.