Art buyers spend Sh22.5m at auction

Yony Waite
Yony Waite's Beyond Lukenya Mountains. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

Art buyers spent Sh22.5 million at the Art Auction East Africa in Nairobi last Friday. In a sale that saw nearly three-quarters of the artworks snapped up, the amount was less than last year when an unprecedented bidding war between two telephone callers resulted in one original E.S. Tingatinga painting selling for more than Sh6 million, jacking up last year’s total sales.

This year, Tingatinga’s paintings did not sell for as much as last year’s lot. However, they still sold well. ‘Beautiful Bird in Tree’ went for about Sh1.3 million while his charming ‘Woman Washing Laundry by the Lake’ sold for Sh821,800.

There were several other artworks this year that sold for over Sh1 million. The highest sale was Yony Waite’s ‘Beyond Lukenya Mountains’ which went for Sh1.35 million. Then came Tingatinga’s ‘Untitled’ (Beautiful Bird in Tree) that went for Sh1.29 million.

Then Peterson Kamwathi’s ‘Untitled Study’ for Sh1.23 million, and Geoffrey Mukasa’s ‘Portrait of a Blonde Girl’ which went for Sh1 million. His other two paintings went for Sh986,160 and Sh563,520.

Despite embassy alerts over a terror attack, the pervasive jitters over the coronavirus and the hectic Friday night traffic, the Seventh Art Auction East Africa did very well. “I got a number of calls before the auction from people explaining why they wouldn’t make it this year,” said Danda Jaroljmek, the art auction curator.


Few bidders arrived at the Radisson Blu Hotel for the auction, but there were more telephone bidders this year than in the past, Danda says.

This year's auction featured more artworks than in previous years. In total, 70 lots from seven East African countries were on display compared to last year’s 59, both at the hotel last Friday night. They were also at Circle Art Gallery the week before so that prospective buyers could have a good look at the artworks, which included more sculptures than before.

Danda, the Circle Art’s founder and curator, established the Contemporary and Modern East African Art Auction in 2013. Over the years, she assembles artworks from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as well as Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt and Congo.

The auction represented both a primary and secondary market with works coming directly from the artists as well as from owners of art.

Peterson Kamwathi

Peterson Kamwathi's Untitled Study. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Of the sculptures, it was George Kyeyune’s ‘Contemplation’ that sold for Sh862,890. After him came Kioko Mwitiki’s life-size ‘Racehorse’ which went for Sh500,000. Donald Wasswa’s wood and copper ‘Agaba’ sold for Sh387,420, George Lilanga’s ‘Untitled’ (Jembe), Sh190,000 and Peter Kenyanya’s red granite ‘Armoured Warrior’ went for Sh164,360.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese painter, Salah Elmur’s ‘Haras Ros’ sold for Sh868,760 while Congolese painter Robert Saidi’s lovely ‘Girl Musing’ went for Sh610,480. Another Congolese artist Houston Maludi’s ‘Kinshasa Street Scene’ sold for Sh563,520 as did the painting ‘Sleeping Bathers in the River of the Past’ by the South African artist who launched his arts career in exile in Nairobi, Charles Sekano.

Value rises

There were other Ugandan artists besides Mukasa who did well at the auction, including Eli Kyeyune whose Untitled ‘Lady in Red’ sold for Sh598,740 and Romano Lutwana whose ‘The Kiss’ went for Sh516,560.

And of the Egyptians, Nazir Tanbouli’s ‘Visitation’ sold for Sh434,380 while Soaud Abdel Rassoud’s ‘I am Not Alone’ sold for Sh328,720. Among Kenyan artists, it was not only Kamwathi and Yony’s artworks that did well this year. For instance, Paul Onditi’s ‘Red Light II’ sold for Sh739,630 while Sane Wadu’s ‘When God Met Man’ went for Sh528,300.

Richard Onyango’s ‘Pool Leaning Series IV’ sold for Sh493,080, Ancent Soi’s ‘Blue Beasts’ went for Sh446,120, Richard Kimathi’s ‘The Lover’ for Sh375,680, Kaloki Nyamai’s ‘Kana Ka Musyemi’ went for Sh387,420, Tabitha wa Thuku’s ‘Blooming’ went for Sh352,200 while Onyis Martin’s ‘Recollections’ went for Sh328, 720 and Emily Odongo’s ‘Ascension’ sold for Sh305,240.

There were several more Kenyans whose artworks sold at the auction, including Rosemary Karuga, Boniface Maina, Kamal Shah, Annabel Wanjiku and Peter Elungat among others.

Globally, the wealthy continue to invest in art, according to Knight Frank’s Luxury Investment report, as its value rises. The value of art grew by 141 percent in one year, the report says.