EnwonwuBonhams Africa Now sale will be held in London on Wednesday 28 February presenting Tutu, a portrait of the Ife royal princess Adetutu Ademiluyi painted in 1974 by the Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu

The sale will also be broadcast live to a Bonhams auction event being held in Lagos, where bidders will be able to participate in real time.

During 1973–74, Enwonwu painted three versions of Tutu and the image became a symbol of national reconciliation at the time of the Nigerian–Biafran conflict in the late 1960s. It was thought that all three paintings were lost until the discovery of the current picture for sale.

Writing in the spring edition of Bonhams Magazine, the Nigerian-born Booker Prize winning novelist Ben Okri, said, “It amounts to the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over fifty years. It is the only authentic Tutu, the equivalent of some rare archaeological find. It is a cause for celebration, a potentially transforming moment in the world of art.”

The first painting, dating back to 1973 remained in the artist’s studio until his death in 1994 and to this day its whereabouts are still unknown. The third Tutu painting is also missing so this portrait of Adetutu is the only known authentic image of the painting.

“The portrait of Tutu is a national icon in Nigeria, and of huge cultural significance. It is very exciting to have discovered the only painting of the series that we now know still exists. Its appearance on the market is a momentous event and we expect it to generate enormous interest,” said Bonhams director of Modern African Art, Giles Peppiatt.