'Tutu' by Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu.

  • A lost Nigerian masterpiece was recently uncovered in North London.
  • The painting is of the Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi, known as Tutu, and was painted by artist Ben Enwonwu in 1974.
  • It has just fetched over R19.6 million at auction.

Earlier this month, a painting was discovered in a flat in North London after being lost for decades.

The painting is of the Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi, known as Tutu, and was painted by artist Ben Enwonwu in 1974. He painted three portraits of her, all of which disappeared, and became national cultural icons. Poster reproductions of the works hang on walls all over Nigeria, representing peace after the Nigerian-Biafran conflict in the 60s.

The painting is so iconic, it has been named the "African Mona Lisa," so it was a "momentous occasion" when it showed up, according to Bonhams Auction House.

The piece was expected to fetch up to R4.9 million when it went up for auction in London on Wednesday, but it succeeded all estimates and ended up selling for R19.6 million — a new record for Enwonwu.

Giles Peppiatt, Bonham's director of modern african art, uncovered the artwork when a family in North London contacted him. They knew Nigerian artwork had been selling for a lot of money at recent auctions, and were curious to know what their portrait was worth. They had no idea they had a missing masterpiece, Peppiatt said.

"It is very exciting to have played a part in the discovery and sale of this remarkable work," he told The Guardian.

Enwonwu was a student at Goldsmiths, Ruskin College, Oxford, and is considered the father of Nigerian modernism. He died in 1994, and the whereabouts of his other two paintings of Tutu remain a mystery.

Receive a single WhatsApp message every morning with Business Insider's latest newsSign up here

See also:

  • From Beyoncé to Alicia Keys, the world is going nuts for South Africa's Maxhosa by Laduma knitwareNamibia solved Cape Town's water crisis 50 years ago — using sewage water
  • The funniest reactions to SA's cabinet reshuffle
  • This won't be the first time Cyril Rampahosa keeps his friends close, and his enemies closer
  • He farms cabbages and sold life policies — 8 things you didn't know about Nhlanhla Nene
  • Here is the perfect way to start an email — and 20 greetings you should usually avoid
  • SA's richest family is coining it amid the scramble for JoJo tanks
  • This ship once saved a South African city when the drought was so bad people were forced to live on 15 litres of water per day
  • South Africa's first black woman winemaker just launched her own brand — and the world can't get enough of it
  • Checkers may use Uber to bring you last-minute braai essentials (complete with booze)
  • These are the best 5 wines under R80, according to SA's top young sommelier
  • South Africans are probably eating Chinese honey that has been mixed with syrup, warns Wandile Sihlobo