Nigerian Symphony, a painting celebrating Nigeria’s independence by the father of Nigerian Modernism Ben Enwonwu is expected to make auction record at Bonhams Africa Now – Modern & Contemporary African Art sale. Image: Bonhams
LONDON- Nigerian Symphony, a rare and historically significant painting by the father of Nigerian Modernism, Ben Enwonwu, is the top lot at Bonhams Africa Now – Modern & Contemporary African Art sale to be held October 5, 2017, in London. Estimated at £100,000-150,000, Nigerian Symphony measures 48 x 178cm.
Executed in 1963-64, the oil on board painting captures the optimism and euphoria that many Nigerians felt following independence in 1960. Soon after Nigeria got its independence from the colonial British, there was celebration across the land for the opportunity for self-rule. This monumental piece is a distinctive panoramic view of the celebration that came after a well fought victory by the Nationalists and those that opposed the British hegemonic rule. Ben Enwonwu captures that jubilation in Nigerian Symphony.
The distinctive panoramic view of Nigerian Symphony depicts a bustling street filled with of people celebrating the exit of the colonialist. Despite the threatening rain clouds overhead, Nigerian citizens from all occupations gathered to celebrate their emancipation: market vendors in traditional dress, women in gele, bespectacled and suited businessmen all jostle for space in this crowded space to rejoice their victory. The painting is a visual expression of the nation’s new political status: a harmonious republic.
Nigerian Symphony is one of the most important paintings by Ben Enwonwu. It exhibits a culmination of his amazing painting techniques. It reveals not just his use of transparency, outline, and glazing techniques but also his outstanding compositional ability. To create unity within the monumental painting, Enwonwu uses orange, curving arcs that outline the heads of the central figures in the painting. Bonhams Director of African Art, Giles Peppiatt describes Nigerian Symphony as a “powerful and exuberant celebration of the Nigerian people’s strength and resilience by the country’s most beloved artist.” Based on the historical value of the painting and other important factors including provenance, Peppiatt anticipates that “the work will be of great interest to collectors both in Africa and further afield.”
In addition to Nigerian Symphony, the auction will also include another important painting by Enwonwu. Entitled Negritude on Red, the painting is from the Negritude series. For a major part of his career, Enwonwu created several important works- paintings and sculptures- based on the theme of Negritude. The artist first encountered the ideology of Negritude whilst he was studying in Paris. There, he met the poet Aimé Césaire, the philosophy’s central thinker as well as the future Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor. The movement’s principle was based on the celebration of black culture and the importance of emancipation from the colonial oppressive rule. Although Enwonwu was not a political activist, he embraced the movement’s pride in black culture and opposition to colonial rule. In Negritude on Red, Enwonwu uses the image of the black African woman to celebrate the importance and beauty of African culture. The painting is estimated at £60,000-90,000.
Although there is a particular focus on artworks by Ben Enwonwu in the upcoming Africa Now – Modern & Contemporary African Art, artworks by Demas Nwoko, another celebrated Nigerian artist will also be sold at the auction. Metro Ride, a never before seen at auction painting is expected to make record auction price. The painting depicts a European couple embracing at the entrance of a Parisian metro station, a modern-day Adam and Eve. A member of Zaria Rebels, Nwoko’s work explores race and common history through allegorical and biblical references. The painting is estimated at £60,000-90,000.
With the forthcoming auction of Africa Now – Modern & Contemporary African Art, Bonhams continues to be the first international auction house to host standalone modern and contemporary African art sales. The auction house holds the world record for a work by Ben Enwonwu. In 2013, the Bonham auction house sold seven wooden sculptures commissioned by the Daily Mirror in 1960, for £361,250, a world auction record for the artist. The auction house also holds the world auction record for Spirit of Ogolo, a painting by the artist sold in 2016 for £218,500. Demas Nwoko’s Adam & Eve also sold for a world record price of £22,500. There is great hope that Nigerian Symphony will be another world record for Ben Enwonwu.