Image via ART X Lagos

A long-lost painting affectionately known as the “African Mona Lisa” has been placed on public display for the first time in about 40 years.

Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu’s 1974 Tutu painting had been assumed missing until last year, when a family in a London apartment invited a specialist from British auction house Bonhams to appraise the piece.

“I was absolutely staggered when I first saw the piece,” Giles Peppiatt, the director of African art at Bonhams, told Nigerian novelist Ben Okri in the Financial Times earlier this year. “The owners, who had inherited it, had no idea of its current value.”

The piece would later become the highest-valued Nigerian Modernist work ever sold at auction.

It was sold to a telephone bidder by Bonhams at £1,205,000 (US$1.6 million), four to six times its estimated value of £200,000 to £300,000 (US$263,000 to US395,000).

The last time Tutu was exhibited was back in 1975 at the Italian embassy in the Nigerian state of Lagos. It made its first public appearance in 40 years at premier West African art fair Art X Lagos, which took place over the weekend.

Tutu, one of three portraits by Enwonwu that explored the aftermath of Nigeria’s bloody civil war, depicts Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi, whom the artist had seen walking in the Nigerian countryside.

The other two artworks, which also portray the princess, are still missing.

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A post shared by The NATIVE (@thenativemag) on Jul 15, 2018 at 3:16am PDT

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At #ARTXLagos2018, we are truly honoured to showcase Ben Enwonwu’s (@ben_enwonwu) historical 'Tutu’, 1974, the highest valued Nigerian Modernist work ever sold at auction, courtesy of Access Bank (@myaccessbank) . Tutu was last publicly exhibited in 1975 at the Italian embassy in Lagos and its whereabouts were unknown for decades. Enwonwu made three original Tutu works featuring Asemiluyi, of which this is the second. The other two have since been lost; the first version was stolen shortly before the artist’s death in 1994. It was recently discovered this year and sold for £1.2 million ($1.67 million) at Bonhams, more than tripling its estimate. . As Okri writes, The painting is “the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over 50 years. It is the only authentic Tutu, the equivalent of some rare archaeological find.” . Painted three years after the end of the Nigerian Civil War, Tutu was intended as an expression of national unity. The artist and the princess’s tribes had been on opposite sides of the conflict, and this was Enwonwu’s way of celebrating his country’s cultural identity. . This is the first public showcase of the work since its discovery was made possible by #ARTXLagos Gold Sponsor Access Bank Plc (@myaccessbank), and we can’t wait to share it with you. . Get your tickets now! Click the link in bio. . #ARTXLagos #DestinationLagos

A post shared by ART X Lagos (@artxlagos) on Nov 1, 2018 at 1:38pm PDT

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A post shared by Bonhams Auctioneers (@bonhams1793) on Feb 7, 2018 at 7:37am PST

[via CNN, images via various sources]

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