Here are different pieces of art from the continent that has changed the world’s perspective on African art


Last night, during an auction sale at the world’s largest art auction house, Christie’s, Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché 1917 painting, created by Italian painter and sculptor, which features an outstretched nude woman, sold through an over-the-phone bid for $170.4 million with fees. The sale surpassed an initial estimate of about $100 million. The auction also featured other memorable works of art like Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Nurse’ from 1964, which sold for $95.4 million, with fees. According to the New York Times, Nu couché, which was sold to a Chinese national, took approximately nine minutes to sell. In the past, Christie’s has sold off many exotic artwork with European influences, however, African art have also set the pace in the world in this regard in the past. A few of them are outlined below:

The Teacher at Christie’s London for £1.8 million

the teacher

In 2005, South African born and Amsterdam based artist, Marlene Dumas’ painting, The Teacher sold at Christie’s London for £1.8 million, which is an equivalent of about R38.8 million. That same year, Dumas became the world’s most expensive living female artist. Her painting, The Teacher, may have been inspired by Dumas’ love for and commitment to teaching. “I see teaching as a very important thing, and not only because I teach things, but also because we have a dialogue and you see what you really want. You find things out. I still believe in the Socratic dialogue”, she said in a 2007 interview on the subject.

Anyanwu at private auction house for £125,000

The Government of Nigeria donated to the United Nations, in 1966, a bronze sculpture executed by the Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu. The sculpture entitled "Anyanwu" ("Sun") is six feet ten inches high, and represents a woman clad in the regalia of the ancient kingdom of Royal Benin, now part of Nigeria. It symbolizes the rising of a new nation.  A detail of the sculpture.  1/Aug/1985. UN Photo/Lois Conner.
UN Photo/Lois Conner.

In 2011, Nigerian sculptor, Ben Enwonwu created a record at an auction, where his sculpture, Anyanwu (sunshine in Igbo language) was purchased for £125,000, which is an estimate of about N37 million. According to the Telegraph, the sale beat Enwonwu’s previous London record of £66,000. The bronze sculpture, Anyanwu, made in 1956, which stood at four and a half foot, was sold at a private auction house, located in Ikoyi on the Lagos Island, Nigeria.

Bahora Girl at Bonhams London for £2.4m

bahora girl

In 2010, South African artist, Irma Stern’s Bahora Girl painting sold at Bonhams, London for £125,000,which is an estimate of about R51 million, then highest rate for an African painting. Bahora Girl features an enchanting image of a Zanzibari Indian girl from 1945, the painting came with an original Zanzibar frame. Another one of Stern’s work, “Still life of Gladioli on a draped table” made in 1949, also sold for £535,200 at Bonhams.

According to, Stern said of the Zanzibari Indian girl in the painting; “How differently live the Indians. Although also in Purdah their surroundings are gay and colourful. On a swing, all shiny with metal, which was hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the bedroom, I found my young friend, Fatu, the Bahora girl. She was swinging gaily when I entered and asked me: ‘Would you like to swing? It is cooler. Her graceful sari flew up in the gentle breeze, her mode of speech was so polite and well formulated. It was a lovely harmony in this young girl, slim and tall, with the gentle movements of a well-bred race. Her eyes were like dark pools, swimming with the glance of tragedy curious in so young a face, yet so common in the eastern woman.”

Les Chadoufs at Christie’s Dubai for $2m

In 2010, Egyptian artist, Mahmoud Said’s Les Chadoufs sold for $2 million, an estimate of 7 million AED, at Christie’s auction house in Dubai, breaking the record of the most expensive artwork by an Arab artist to be featured at the auction house. It had been earlier estimated to sell at $150,000 to $200,000 but it surpassed those estimates by a very long shot. The painting, which was done in 1934, shows a veiled woman carrying water and two men and a white, long-eared donkey drawing water from a well.

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