Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Rare Enwonwu, Grillo works lead Africa Now auction in London

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Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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The Dust, oil-on-board by Yusuf Grillo

One of the bronze sculptures titled ‘Anyanwu’ from the famous series by Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994) has been estimated to lead the lots for sales at Bonhams Africa Now auction, holding on February 15, 2017 in London.

A few days ago, Bonham’s modern African art specialist, Giles Peppiatt, briefed select guests in Lagos about the auction. Though a shift from the yearly May date of the sales at Bonhams, the African Now Modern 2017 is, however, sustaining its usual display of quite a lot of artists from Nigeria and other African countries.

Also among the lots estimated to lead the sales are two rare paintings, ‘The Dust,’ a 1972 non-bluish cubism style and ‘Can It Be True,’ a 1986 -1992 oil-on-board by living Nigerian modernist, Yusuf Grillo (b. 1934), included in the lots seen at the preview is another rare painting, ‘Adam and Eve’ dated 1965 by Uche Okeke (1933-2016). Okeke was more known for his ink and drawing works on paper.

Recall that in 2012, one of Enwonwu’s ‘Anyanwu’ bronze made a record sale for N28 million at Arthouse auction in Lagos. But the ‘Anyanwu’ for February sale at Bonhams, “is different’, Peppiatt cautioned. He explained that among the series were distinct pieces from quite a lot that the late artist did. One of them, he assured, “is what we have at Bonhams for the auction, and estimate for £150,000 – £200,000.”

The February sales appear like a gathering of rare works of masters. For Enwonwu, it’s a self-portrait finished in pastel and dated 1952. The late artist must have done quite a number of works in the U.K., where he studied art. After Enwonwu finished his self-portrait, “he gave it to one of his best friends in England,” Peppiatt disclosed the provenance of the brownish portrait.

Since 2008 when Bonhams made the debut sales in London, the auction house had sustained the yearly event, stressing the rise in the value of modern African art. Two years ago, Bonhams added a second auction, African Now – Contemporary, which holds in November. The date of the modern sales was moved from May to February to create space between the two auctions, Peppiatt explained. The creation of contemporary sales, he stated, “allow us to focus on Nigerian artists more.” He argued that between 1945 and 1970s, nowhere in Africa did art generate movements as it happened in Nigeria.

As “the third largest auction house in the world,” Bonhams, according to Peppiatt has been in the forefront of showing Nigerian art to the European market. He boasted that modern Nigerian art was shown to a wider market “for the first time in 2008” when Africa Now auction made its debut. Indeed, it’s of note that there was a striking coincidence in 2008: Lagos-based Arthouse Contemporary actually debuted with Nigeria-organised auction in the first quarter of the same year, followed by Bonhams’. For the first time in the history of African art, dedicated auctions for modern art of the continent unearthed high market value courtesy of Arthouse and Bonhams.

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