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Enwonwu’s Nigerian Symphony to lead Bonhams African art auction in London


Described as a monumental piece measures 48 x 178cm; the distinctive panoramic view and depicts a bustling street, it’s titled Nigerian Symphony. The painting by Nigerian Modernist, Ben Enwonwu, is estimated at £100,000-150,000 as the top lot at Bonhams Africa Now – Modern & Contemporary African Art sale at its New Bond Street saleroom on 5 October 2017.

Despite the threatening rain clouds overhead, Nigerian citizens from all walks of life are present: market vendors in traditional dress, women in gele, bespectacled and suited businessmen all jostle for space.


The painting was executed in 1963-64, and reveals the optimism and euphoria that many Nigerians felt following independence in 1960. Despite the diversity, the crowd is peaceful. The orange, curving arcs that outline the heads of the central figures create a sense of unity. The painting is a visual expression of the nation’s new political status: a harmonious republic.

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. Painted at a pivotal moment in the country’s history, I anticipate the work will be of great interest to collectors both in Africa and further afield.”

The auction will also feature an oil from Enwonwu’s celebrated Negritude series. The painting, entitled Negritude on Red, is estimated at £60,000-90,000. The artist first encountered the ideology of Negritude whilst he was studying in Paris. Here he met the philosophy’s central thinker, the poet Aimé Césaire, as well as the future Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor. Although Enwonwu was not a political activist, he sympathized with the movement’s pride in black culture and opposition to colonial rule. In Negritude on Red, the artist uses the image of the black African woman to celebrate the importance and beauty of African culture.

Other highlights include a rare work by Demas Nwoko’s Metro Ride. The painting, never before seen at auction, depicts a European couple embracing at the entrance of a Parisian metro station, a modern-day Adam and Eve. Nwoko’s work explores race and common history through allegorical and biblical references. The painting is estimated at £60,000-90,000.

Bonhams is the first international auction house to host standalone modern and contemporary African art sales. Among others, Bonhams currently holds the world record for a work by Ben Enwonu (Seven wooden sculptures commissioned by the Daily Mirror in 1960, sold for £361,250) and the world record for a painting by the artist (Spirit of Ogolo, £218,500). Demas Nwoko’s Adam & Eve also sold for a world record price of £22,500.

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