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Ben Enwonwu’s ‘Sefi’ To Be Auctioned At Sotheby’s Modern, Contemporary African Art Auction

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Ben Enwonwu

March 17, 2020

Sotheby’s auction of Modern and Contemporary African Art will return to London for a fifth consecutive season. Since the commencement of the series in 2017, Sotheby’s sales in the category have achieved over sixty world records, championing the work of artists across Africa and diaspora, and highlighting a rising global interest in the field.

From the 21st-24th of March, over 100 works by artists from 21 countries, will be available for public viewing ahead of an auction on the 25th

The sale will be led by a radiant early painting by Nigerian master Ben Enwonwu. Until recently, the enigmatic sitter had been known as the ‘Nigerian Princess’ but, upon close examination, Sotheby’s specialists noticed intricate details which lead them to believe the sitter could be Princess Judith Safinet ‘Sefi’ Atta. The sitter’s blouse is fashioned from the Okene cloth produced by the Ebira women of Sefi’s hometown.

Upon contacting Sefi’s daughter, the artist Obi Okigbo, she revealed that her mother knew Enwonwu well: “When Hannah sent me the photo of the painting, I felt like I was like looking at a portrait of myself. The family resemblance is remarkable”. 

Ben Enwonwu’s Sefi

Painted in 1953, Sefi will appear at auction for the first time with an estimate of £200,000-300,000. Until now, the fine portrait has remained in the family collection of a prominent West African academic and writer. It was brought to Sotheby’s attention when the current owner requested a free estimate on Sotheby’s Online Estimate Platform. 

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