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An Artist’s Dossier: Yusuf Grillo

The term, ‘old masters’ generally refers to the most recognized European artists—mostly painters, working between the Renaissance and 1800. In modern times, a Master describes an artist usually advanced in age with recognition gained over extensive years of practice.

In contrast, the ‘emergent artist’ is part of a more recent era and lacks a certain appeal and value which time endows his work. An analysis of auction results reveals that the Masters have recorded about 70 per cent of the highest prices in Nigeria in the past 5 years.

In this article, we will analyze auction results for widely acknowledged Master, Yusuf Grillo, as well as an indication of future values.

Yusuf Adebayo Grillo was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1934 and studied at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria from 1955 to 1960. The following year, he earned a postgraduate teacher’s certificate. In 1958, together with his contemporaries at Zaria, Grillo founded the Zaria Art Society, famous for its theory of Natural Synthesis, which sought to merge Western techniques and conventions of representation with indigenous Nigerian traditions.

Much of Grillo’s legacy rests on his achievements as an educationist. A leading member of the Yaba figurative school, he served for many years as the director of the School of Art, Design and Technology of the Yaba College of Technology. He was the first president of the Society of Nigerian Artists, and served for over sixteen years from inception in 1964.

Grillo is well-known for his distinctive style which adopts the geometric planes of classical African sculpture and the rich blue hues of traditional Yoruba textiles as exemplified by Blue Moon, a 1966 oil on board painting estimated at  N8- 9.5 million ($66,670-79,170) and sold for N8.8 million ($58,666) in November 2008 at Arthouse Contemporary.

This remains the record for any Grillo sold in Nigeria, erasing the earlier record for Humana set in 2006, an oil on board, which sold for N6.05 million ($40,000) at Arthouse Contemporary in 2008.

Grillo is one of Africa’s most influential modernist painters and the value for his paintings continues to rise on the international market.

Leading international auction house, Bonhams, has featured Grillo in several auctions with his highest selling work African Woman with Gele fetching £80,500 including premium in its May 2014 Africa Now sales. The work had a pre-sale estimate of £30,000 to £50,000.

The table below shows the 5 most expensive works by Grillo sold at Bonhams, an auction house. The results show a steep rise in sales from 2010 to 2014, which will hopefully boost collector confidence in acquiring works by the artist.

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