Celebrated Nigerian artist, Ben Enwonwu dominates a lacklustre Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction at Bonhams.

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Ben Enwonwu, Portrait of Marianne, 1972. Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction at Bonhams
Ben Enwonwu, Portrait of Marianne, 1972. Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction at Bonhams

Bonhams‘s customary modern and contemporary African Art auction yields a little over £2 million, barely over the aggregate of the presales low estimate.

The £2 million of sales is a lacklustre result for an auction held during Frieze London and on the opening day of the Contemporary African Art Fair 1:54, when international collectors flock to london and are expected to be on a spending spree. One of the headlines of the auction, Grand Canal Venice by the celebrated South African artist Irma Stern, didn’t find a new buyer – at least at the right price. Overall, of the 81 lots listed in the auction, 48 were sold, representing a selling rate of about 59%.

Irma Stern, Grand Canal Venice, 1945
Irma Stern, Grand Canal Venice, 1945. Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction Bonhams.

However, the auction has confirmed the growing interest in the work of the late Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu. All seven of his listed artworks were sold for a total value of nearly £1 Million (specifically £946 684 – premium included), nearly half the value of the auction. Ben Enwonwu’s portrait of a Nigerian actress Marianne became the most expensive artwork sold in the afternoon. It was auctioned for about half a million (£ 555,062 – premium included) nearly treble its high presale estimates. Another of his paintings, Woman in blue and red, sold for £20,062, double its low estimate.

This autumnal auction comes on the heels of industry reports, indicating growing international interest in the Contemporary African Art market. For over a decade, Bonhams and its dedicated African Art Now, (recently rebranded Modern and Contemporary Art Auction) and South African auctions have dominated the African Art secondary market. This leading position is being increasingly challenged ever since Sotheby’s joined the fray and launched its dedicated auction in 2017. The second of Sotheby’s bi-annual modern and contemporary African Art is scheduled on October 15th. These combined results will confirm whether the global interest continues to be translated into consistent high sales figures, especially on the resale market. It will also indicate which one of these two auctions houses is taking up the leadership position on this segment of the market.

Other highlights of the Modern and Contemporary African Art auction include: 

  • Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo’s Moon Madonna sold for £ 135,562 soaring past its high presales estimates of £90,000.

Detail Moon Madonna, Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo, Modern and Contemporary African Art Auction, Bonhams
Detail Moon Madonna, Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo, Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction, Bonhams

 

  • One of El Anatsui’s earlier work, a wooden sculpture sold for £ 35,062 against a high estimate of £25,000. 

Detail of Untitled, El Anatsui, 94. Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction. Bonhams.
Detail of Untitled, El Anatsui, 94. Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction. Bonhams.

 

  • Jimoh Akolo’s Seated man in red cap achieved £10,687 against a high estimate of £6,000. 

 

Detail Seated man in red cap, Jimoh Akolo, 94. Modern and Contemporary African Art Auction Bonhams
Detail Seated man in red cap, Jimoh Akolo, 94. Modern and Contemporary African Art Auction, Bonhams

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