Another Ben Enwonwu Art piece Discovered!!!! The story of Christine Elizabeth Davis.
This is a fantastic story of discovery surrounding a lost work by one of the most revered African artists of the 20th century, Ben Enwonwu. The portrait left Nigeria in 1978 and has remained in the possession of a family in Texas ever since. Entirely unaware of the painting’s significant value, the seller had never before heard of Sotheby’s, but came across their website when they ‘googled’ the artist. The portrait is a stunning precursor to Enwonwu’s famed depictions of Nigerian royal princess Adetutu Ademiluyi, often dubbed the ‘Nigerian Mona Lisa.’
The picture belonged to the descendants of the model depicted, posing in 1971 in Lagos for Ben Enwonwu. The family moved to Texas and lived with the picture for decades, with no idea of its actual value. Only after an internet search for the painter’s signature did they realize that they owned a work by a 20th century master of African modernism – internationally known as the painter of the so-called African Mona Lisa.
The sitter is Christine Elizabeth Davis, Christine,’ of Ghanaian and West Indian heritage, was born in New York, the step-daughter of a renowned Ghanaian lawyer. In her early twenties, she moved back to Ghana to reside with her stepfather before relocating to Lagos, Nigeria, with her British husband in 1969. There, they befriended Enwonwu. “Christine” was completed in 1971, and Christine’s husband commissioned the work as a gift for his wife in 1971 before they eventually moved back to the US a few years later.
Christine, who was in her mid-30s at the time, passed away in Texas thereafter. But the painting has remained in the family ever since.
Christine (1971) by Ben Enwonwu sells for £1,095,000 (fetching more than 7 times its upper estimate of £150,000) at Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary African Art Auction yesterday, 15 October.
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 criticized 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.