Anyanwu, a bronze sculpture by Ben Enwonwu surpassed estimates at the Bonhams Modern Africa Sale in London, selling for $ 441,799. Image: Bonhams
LONDON – Anyanwu by Ben Enwonwu was the top seller at the Bonhams Africa Now – Modern Africa Sale in London Wednesday. Estimated at £150,000-200,000, the work surpassed estimation, selling for $ 441,799. Measuring 6ft 10 high, Anyanwu is one of the most recognized masterpieces by this celebrated pioneering Nigerian sculptor and painter. It
Anyanwu – the Igbo word for ‘sun’ was first conceived in 1954 when Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994) was commissioned to create a work marking the establishment of the National Museum in Lagos. The sculpture stands gloriously outside the museum.
Ben Enwonwu created several versions of the statue in different sizes over many years. With every version, he made subtly altering to give each piece its own unique identity. The Anyanwu sold during Bonhams Africa Now – Modern Africa Sale in London Wednesday is the first full-sized cast to come to auction. It is from the second edition cast in 1956, and is believed to be the only one of this size from the second edition in existence. Bonhams Director of African Art, Giles Peppiatt notes, “The statue was a visual manifestation of the new Nigeria, culturally confident and proud of her heritage.”
Anyanwu is an elongated sculpture of a woman in a dance or propelling herself into space. It represents Nigeria as a rising nation. Ben Enwonwu described the concept of the sculpture thus: “My aim was to symbolize our rising nation. This sculpture is spiritual in conception, rhythmical in movement and three dimensional in its architectural setting – these qualities are characteristic of the sculptures of my ancestors.”
A later edition of Anyanwu is presently on display at on the second floor of the United Nations Headquarters building in New York. The Nigerian Government presented it to the United Nations in 1966, a few days after Nigeria celebrated the sixth anniversary of its independence.
Bonhams auction of Anyanwu is an evolution in the sale of works of this celebrated Nigerian artist. In May 2016, the auction house sold a painting by Enwonwu for £218,500, setting a world auction record.
In addition to Anyanwu by Ben Enwonwu, artworks by several Nigerian artists also did well at the auction. The Duet, oil on canvas painting by Yusuf Grillo, sold US$ 109,511, while Negritude, a gouache by Ben Enwonwu sold for US$ 104,817.