Enwonwu’s Princes of Mali Tops Presales Estimates At Bonhams

Enwonwu’s Princes of Mali Tops Presales Estimates At Bonhams

International auction house, Bonhams will once again on May 21, hold Africa Now, its yearly sales dedicated to modern and contemporary art from Africa work.

A total of 120 lots will be featured, mainly from some of the most established names across the continent including Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, Malick Sidibe, Malangatana Valente Ngwenya and Bruce Onobrakpeya. Interestingly, the sale features 22 works by celebrated Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu, the highest in a single sale by the auction house. Though the demand for Enwonwu’s work is high, a few critics and observers have expressed concerns that the relatively high number of his works may affect the overall prices for each work in this sale.

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However, the highest earning lot is Enwonwu’s Princes of Mali, 1976, oil on board, 68.5 x 121.5 cm, estimated between £80,000 – 120,000 ($130,000-200,000).  An earlier work, Purapakali, 1973, gouache, 53.4×76.2 cm in the same series was auctioned at Arthouse’s Lagos sales in April 2009 for N4,500,000 ($29,605). The gouache is arguably the first in the series of paintings begun while Enwonwu was professor of fine art at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and is clearly a precursor to the oil painting, Dance Ensemble-Purapukali, 1975, in the collection of the Institute of African Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife.

The figures are male. Sparsely-clad, they dance across the picture plane with outstretched arms, their lithe bodies with elongated torsos in graceful movement. The paintings are at once, brought together by the complex network of flattened geometric shapes and forms, which frame them. The works are a testimony to Enwonwu’s mastery and life-long pre-occupation with rhythmic movements and dance since 1949.

Other high earning lots include Yusuf Grillo’s The Flight, valued between £50,000 – 80,000 ($ 84,000-130,000), El Anatsui’s Sacred Secrets Unfolding, carved wood relief with acrylic, 61×188 cm in nineteen pieces, valued between £40,000-60,000 ($67,000-100,000), and Sokari Douglas-Camp’s, Bike, 2000, 185x268x75 cm, estimated between £20,000-30,000 ($34,000-51,000).

The sale is expected to break last year’s record of £1,294,562 ($2,176,480) in total sales with a combined pre-sale estimate of over £1,630,000 ($2,690,000).


Oliver Enwonwu is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Omenka magazine, Director, Omenka Gallery and Chief Executive, Revilo. He holds a first degree in Biochemistry, advanced diploma in Exploration Geophysics (distinction), Post Graduate Diplomas in Applied Geophysics and Visual Art (distinction) and a Masters in Art History, all from the University of Lagos. He is the founder, Executive Director, and trustee of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation. He also sits on the board of several organizations including the National Gallery of Art, Nigeria and the Reproduction Rights Society of Nigeria. Enwonwu is also president of both the Society of Nigerian Artists and the Alliance of Nigerian Art Galleries.

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