Ben Enwonwus (1917 – 1994) art, Anyanwu, took centre stage at Bonhams African Now- sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art in London with a new world record for the artist at £353,000 against his previous best of £125,000.
Estimated at £150,000-200,000, Anyanwu, however, exceeded the target and gave the late modernist master his world record.
Anyanwu, the artist masterpiece, originated when Enwonwu was commissioned to create a work marking the establishment of the National Museum in Lagos, which still stands at Onikan, Lagos. This first edition of Anyanwu sculpture (1954) was so popular that another was commissioned for the United Nations headquarters in New York (1961).
Enwonwu has said of the sculpture: "My aim was to symbolise our rising nation. I have tried to combine material, crafts, and traditions, to express a conception that is based on womanhood – woman, the mother and nourisher of man. In our rising nation, I see the forces embodied in womanhood; the beginning, and then, the development and flowering into the fullest stature of a nation – a people! This sculpture is spiritual in conception, rhythmical in movement, and three-dimensional in its architectural setting – these qualities are characteristic of the sculpture of my ancestors."
A statement from Bonhams put the total sale of the 2017 Africa Now auction at “more than £1.4 million.” Other sales that boosted the auction included ‘The Duet,’ by Yusuf Grillo which sold for £87,500; ‘Negritude’ by Enwonwu, which made £83,750; ‘The Glory of Ancient Benin,’ ‘Song of the City’ by Enwonwu sold for £75,000 against an estimate of £70,000-100,000; and ‘Adam and Eve’ by Prof. Uche Okeke, which sold for £56,250, but estimated at £20,000-300.
With the results of the 2017 Africa Now Modern auction, Enwonwu has confirmed his spot as one of Africa’s leading modernists in the international art market. “Nowhere is this more spectacularly displayed than in his masterpiece Anyanwu. As the result achieved indicates – this is a new world record for an Enwonwu sculpture – there was fierce bidding to secure the right to own this exceptional and moving piece,” Peppiatt stated after the auction.