01/03/2018 17:17 SAST | Updated 03/03/2018 11:42 SAST

The Search For Africa's Mysterious 'Mona Lisa'

A painting of the mysterious woman sold for R30-million on auction this weekend, but who is Princess Tutu, and where is she?

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An employee poses with a work of art by Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu entitled Tutu.

A 1974 painting of the royal princess Adetutu Ademiluyi, aka "Princess Tutu", sold for £1.2-million (~R29-million) on auction in London last weekend — a record-breaking price for the artist who painted it. But now everyone is asking: who is the mysterious Nigerian princess, and where has she gone?

The painting, described as "The African Mona Lisa", was painted by Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu, who was a leader in Nigerian Modernism and has become something of a Nigerian cultural symbol.

"The portrait of Tutu is a national icon in Nigeria, and of huge cultural significance," said Giles Peppiatt, Bonham's director of modern African art, who was responsible for selling the work.

According to speculation doing the rounds in Nigeria at the moment, Tutu might very well still be alive. But she is the daughter of a king who had 37 wives, and many, many children, so her location is going to be very difficult to pin down, long-lost family members say.

"We don't know where she is, but she is still alive," says Ronke Ademiluyi, one of Tutu's cousins, to The Guardian. "We've been searching for her everywhere."

BEN STANSALL via Getty Images
Nigerian author Ben Okri poses with a work of art by Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu entitled 'Tutu'.

Author Ben Okri told AFP that the painting has been a mysterious symbol for the whole of Nigeria since it went missing.

"It has been a legendary painting for 40 years. Everybody keeps talking about Tutu, saying: where is Tutu?" he said after a viewing at Bonhams. "He wasn't just painting the girl, he was painting the whole tradition. It's a symbol of hope and regeneration to Nigeria, it's a symbol of the phoenix rising."