Imagine finding an almost-forgotten portrait of your mother in your family house, doing a Google search on the artist’s name and discovering that what you own is a precursor to the artist’s best-known work that sold in 2018 for $1.6 million.
This is exactly what happened very recently to one of the members of the Davis family in Texas.
The portrait, Christine, is the latest remarkable find of work by one of the most revered African artists of the 20th century, Ben Enwonwu. The captivating sitter is Christine Elizabeth Davis, an American hair stylist of West Indian descent.
Christine travelled a lot in her life, working in Ghana before moving to Lagos with her British husband in 1969. There, they befriended Enwonwu and Christine’s husband commissioned the work as a gift for his wife in 1971 before they eventually moved back to the US a few years later.
What a remarkable discovery!
I love tales of once-lost-paintings resurfacing. It’s pretty rare for these things to happen, and oddly enough this is the second time Enwonwu’s work has been re-discovered this way.
For the uninitiated, Ben Enwonwu was a Nigerian sculptor and painter — he’s a notable artist who’s probably most known for his contributions to African modernity in Art History. He created incredible public works, has an impressive array of paintings, and was a celebrated artist not only by the Royal Society of British Artists, but around the globe.
As the Quartz article points out, the portrait, is of Christine Elizabeth Davis. She moved to Lagos in 1969 and befriended Enwonwu. Later, during the 1975 military coup, the Davis family left Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the States and settled in Texas. The painting had been in the family’s possession since its last exhibition in 1978.