Two iconic paintings in the near future will be put up for sale in London. The first is a recently found portrait of a Nigerian princess who became virtually a myth after disappearing a few decades ago. The second is a painting by the Spanish Impressionist Joaquin Sorolei to the famous painting Returning from Fishing. The histories of these works are of particular value.

Both paintings will be sold at auction house Bonhams.
The missing image of a dark-skinned princess was discovered recently in a normal apartment in northern London. The picture was written by the founding father of Nigerian modernism, Benedikt Enwonwu in 1974. It is a portrait of Ife Adetutu Ademilui, known as Tutu, which became a symbol of national reconciliation in Nigeria. Reproductions of the work hang in homes throughout the country.

Benedikt Enwonwu
1974, 97 × 66.5 cm

In fact, Enwonwu wrote three versions of Tutu, but all of them were lost and became the subject of a lot of speculation. Head of the Department of Contemporary African Art Bonhams Gilles Peppyat calculated that reports of the discovering this princess portraits he receives every eight weeks, but they invariably turn out to be reproductions. However, at the end of last year, the London family invited a specialist to inspect the painting signed by Envonwu – and the expert was expecting a big surprise.

This picture was known to me for a long time, so it was a real moment of insight. I thought: “My God, this is unusual“, – says the expert.

The lost version of Princess Tutu portrait by Benedict Enwonwu

The family asked to remain anonymous, but Peppyat described her members as “perfectly ordinary”. The picture was once acquired by their father. “It happens so often, there are things your parents bought, and you do not know why they bought them or what their value is … you just get them inherited,” the auctioneer added.

The Nigerian writer Ben Okry called this the most significant discovery in contemporary African art over the past half-century. He noted that traditional African sculpture played an important role in the birth of modernism at the beginning of the 20th century, but contemporary artists from the Black Continent are completely unpresented in the history of art.

The only true Tutu is equivalent to some rare archeological find. This is potentially a transformative moment in the art world, ” he said.

Benedict (Ben) Enwonwu. Photo: The Guardian

Benedict Enwonwu (1921 – 1994) was already the most famous among living African artists at the time of the meeting with Princess Tutu in 1973, three years after the end of the civil war in Nigeria. In the 1940s, the future painter and sculptor studied in the UK. Wide popularity came to Enwonwu after he was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Nigeria in 1957. This monument now stands at the entrance to the parliament building in Lagos.

Benedict Enwonwu and Elizabeth II at the bronze sculpture of the Queen of the work of the Nigerian master November 28, 1957

Nevertheless, the portraits of Tutu are considered his greatest masterpieces. The image in question was exhibited at the funeral of Benedict Envonwu in 1994. The location of other paintings with the princess remains a mystery.

The picture is going to be sold on February 28, having previously estimated at £200,000-300,000 (€230,000-340,000).

But since its appearance on the market is a momentous event, the auction will be broadcast live for the participants in Lagos. If the upper limit of the estimate will be exceeded, the portrait will beat the record for works of artists from Nigeria.

And two weeks later, on March 14, the same auction house Bonhams will sell another rare work – a sketch for the famous masterpiece of Joaquin Sorolia “Return from Fishing” (1894). The picture is estimated at £300,000 – 400,000 (€340,000 – 450,000).

Joaquin Sorolla, sketch for “Returning from fishing” (1894). Private collection

The author presented a sketch to one of his close friends – Dr. Luis Soler and Soto. He bequeathed the work to his son, who, in turn, gave it to his godson. Thus, the work from the moment of creation was in private hands.


This is one of the 16 preparatory oil sketches that Sorolla made in the summer of 1894 in Valencia. “Return from fishing,” he wrote specifically for the Paris Salon in 1895, where the canvas was a great success. Subsequently, the French state bought it for the Luxembourg Museum, and now the masterpiece is part of the collection of the Museum of Orsay.

Returning from fishing. Towing boat
Joaquin Sorolla (Soroia)
1894, 265 × 403.5 cm

On the sketch, put up for sale, depicts a driver who runs the oxen, pulling a fishing boat on the beach. In the composition of the final work the figure occupies a key place. She balances the fisherman in a boat that collects the sail on the right side of the canvas.