Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994) Negritude on red
Lot 47
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E
(Nigerian, 1917-1994)
Negritude on red
Sold for £106,250 (US$ 142,019) inc. premium

Lot Details
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994)
Negritude on red
signed and dated 'BEN ENWONWU/ 1970' (lower right)
oil and watercolour on board
98 x 72cm (38 9/16 x 28 3/8in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Acquired from the artist by Deaconess Christina M. Osituyo.
    Thence by descent to the current owner.


    This painting, from Enwonwu's Negritude series, comes from a very productive period in Ben Enwonwu's career. In the early 1970s, Enwonwu was serving as the first Professor of Art at the University of Ife. Although he had framed his work through the ideology of Negritude since his student days at the Slade, his response to this ideology had always been tempered with ongoing studies of Igbo religion and symbolic imagery. However, between 1972 and 1975, he devoted a large number of paintings to exploring how the ideology of Negritude might be usefully interpreted in visual imagery. Many of the paintings he produced during this period were actually titled Negritude and show the artist working through his modernist training and the demands of ideology-beholden representation.

    Many of Enwonwu's Negritude painting from this period were large vertical canvases with fractal surfaces, with his characteristic diagonal swirl of figures and colors all intersecting in interesting ways. Usually, Enwonwu's Negritude paintings have a towering female figure placed at the center of the canvas, whose form echoes in smaller figural units in the background. The paintings are unified by a blue and yellow color scheme with contrasting red colors providing a charge to the pictorial surface.

    What distinguishes this particular painting (Negritude, 1970) from the others is how the artist has pared down his usually busy combination of forms and colors into a simplified yet complex representation of nubile womanhood. In his student days, Enwonwu was very interested in the works of several European modernists. This painting shows his awareness of the chromatic experiments of Henri Matisse's late period (Dancers series, 1909-1910) in which the artist constructed a modernist platform through a focus on simplified forms and color. The female figure at the center of Enwonwu's painting shows the same distillation of form and color that we find in Matisse's modernist experiments: a flattening of form and color, off-center compositions, and challenge to enclosed surfaces in painting; the forms and colors seem to continue outside the canvas into space. Although the three female figures in the painting are silhouettes, the central female figure, painted in black to reflect Negritude's celebration of African history and culture, is depicted in soft tones that lend three-dimensionality to the image. The blue and red color scheme is painted in mostly flat tones, which cut a sharp contrast with the white figures in the background.

    Enwonwu's Negritude series contains some of his best paintings and many of them reflect his wide range of artistic experiments. This particular painting is one of the most sophisticated in the series.

    We are grateful to Prof. Sylvester Ogbechie from the Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara for his opinion and assessment of this work.

Saleroom notices

  • Christina Osituyo (1925-2016) was appointed a Deaconess in the Apostolic Church in Lagos, this work was acquired driectly from the artist by her in the early 1970s in Lagos. Like Enwonwu, Deaconess Osituyo had moved to Lagos following the end of the Biafran war in January 1970.
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    Auction administration - African, Modern and Contemporary Art
    Bonhams
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