At the just concluded West African premier art fair on 4th November, ART X Lagos, one of Ben Enwonwu’s most notable works, ‘Princess Tutu’ made an appearance for two days. Also known as “African Mona Lisa”, this was the first time the painting has been seen in Nigeria since the 1970s.

Ben Enwowu, ‘Princess Tutu’, 1974

Here are some facts about the Princess Tutu painting you may not know about:

  • The Princess Tutu painting is of a real princess of the Ife royal family – Adetutu Ademiluyi. Hence, from which ‘Tutu’ was abbreviated. At first sight in Ile-Ife, Enwonwu was captivated by her long neck and remarkable beauty, he spent six months to track the princess down and then persuade her family to let her sit for her portrait to be painted. This was particularly of significance because this took place a few years after the Nigerian civil war, which left a cold relationship between the Yorubas and the Igbos. Enwonwu’s painting of the princess was seen as an extension of a reconciliation of sort.

 

  • Enwonwu painted three portraits of the princess: When the first was done, Enwonwu regarded it as his masterpiece and was reluctant to sell it. Prints of it were made in 1973, and subsequently Enwonwu painted two more to avoid giving up the original. In 1994, Enwonwu’s house was robbed and the 1973 original copy was stolen.

 

  • The ‘Princess Tutu’ paintings were lost for over 40 years. The last time the second Tutu was seen publicly was at an exhibition at the Italian embassy in 1975. After that, the portrait disappeared and was found in 2017, in a modest family home in London. The painting was auctioned at Bonahms’ in March 2018. The paintings became famous not only for the beauty but for the mystery surrounding their disappearance

 

  • At the auction, ‘Princess Tutu’ sold for a stunning £1,205,000 (N508 million) as opposed to the initially predicted prices of £200,000 – £300,000.

 

  • Princess Adetutu Ademiluyi, of whom the portrait was done, is believed to be alive and living in Lagos. With the Ademiluyi family clan spanning over a thousand, it has been very difficult to trace this woman, who is now of national interest.
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