An iconic portrait of a Nigerian princess shredded sales estimates at a London auction on Wednesday after it had disappeared for decades. The picture, dubbed the “African Mona Lisa,” sold for a record $1.7 million, CNN reported.
Perhaps the piqued interest in the image of Ife princess Adetutu “Tutu” Ademiluyi was not only because of the royal’s story but because the painting went missing for 40 years before it turned up at a London apartment. Or perhaps the interest was bolstered by the success of Black Panther, which shows Black royalty in the fictional African world of Wakanda. Whatever the case, Ademiluyi’s image, painted in 1974 by artist Ben Enwonwu, has become an iconic work of art.
The “African Mona Lisa” became a symbol of national reconciliation at a delicate time in Nigeria’s history. Enwonwu created the work, also globally referred to “Tutu,” during the aftermath of Nigeria’s bloody civil war. At such a chaotic period, Emwonwu had found peace in painting Ademiluyi while he saw her on walking in the Nigerian countryside. He produced three painting of the princess, one of which was sold at auction. The other two have remained missing.
The discovery of one of the famous and mysterious paintings is thanks, in part, to Giles Peppiatt, Director of African art at Bonhams, who searched for the works for years. He found the real painting after dozens of fakes had been made at a north London apartment last December. What a discovery, right?
“I was absolutely staggered when I first saw the piece,” Peppiatt explained. “The owners, who had inherited it, had no idea of its current value.”
The work was estimated at less than a quarter of the final bid, but exceeded that estimate at Wednesday’s auction, according to CNN.