A previously unknown painting by Ben Enwonwu, Nigeria’s most celebrated 20th Century artist, is up for auction.
‘The Court of the Oba of Benin’, thought to have been painted in the 1940s, is described as a “masterpiece” by the auctioneers, Sotheby’s.
The painting, which is one of his earlier works, shows a festival at the Oba’s palace and reflects the artist’s celebration of the culture of the area.
It is one of 12 of his works on sale from the auction house’s London base and could be sold for an estimated £100,000 to £150,000.
Enwonwu was born in Umuese-Aroli, Onitisha, Nigeria in 1917. He is arguably one of the most influential African artists of the 20th century and is known as the father of Nigerian modernism.
He established a name as a painter and a sculptor who fused western conventions and techniques with indigenous traditions and aesthetics.
The United Nations commissioned him to create the Anyanwu/Awakening bronze sculpture of the Igbo earth-goddess Ani for their New York Headquarters which celebrates African independence and world peace.
He lived in Benin between 1941 and 1944. During his time in the city, he was immersed in studying Edo cultural traditions, observing traditional festivals and understudying the Benin brass casters.
Interest in buying Enwonwu’s work has increased in the last two years following the sale of two of his portraits, Tutu and Christine, for more than $1million each.