At Bonhams, 75 Works by Overlooked Artist Bertina Lopes Make Their Auction Debut

The auction house hopes to bring awareness to the Mozambican-Italian artist's vibrant oeuvre with the sale.

Image of art studio filled with colorful paintings, carpets and easels
The late Bertina Lopes’ studio in Rome. Courtesy Bonhams

Bertina Lopes, the late Mozambican-Italian artist known for both her large-scale abstract works and her political advocacy, was a pioneer in the merging of European and African art movements. Now seventy-five of Lopes’ paintings, drawings and sculptures will head to auction for the first time at Bonhams.

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The works are expected to fetch between £300,000 ($382,000) and £500,000 ($636,000) total in the online The Studio of Bertina Lopes sale running from June 4 to June 19. Sold on behalf of her estate, the artworks have remained untouched since her death in 2012 and come directly from Lopes’ Rome studio, which doubled as her apartment.

In keeping with Lopes’ oeuvre, many of the lots reflect the evolving political situation in the artist’s home country of Mozambique, which endured a war for independence and civil war during her lifetime. “Her work for a very long time has always been quite politically engaging,” Helene Love-Allotey, Bonham’s head of sale, told Observer.

Large painting with large colorful strokes of paint in the middle
Bertina Lopes, Il canto della natura (The song of nature), (2000). Courtesy Bonhams

Born under colonialism in Maputo to Portuguese-Mozambican parents, Lopes initially became acquainted with contemporary European movements like Modernism when she left to study in Lisbon. She would return to Mozambique in 1953 to work as an artist and professor, where she became ingrained in a circle of poets, writers and political activists and formed anti-fascist and anti-colonialist beliefs as the country’s political situation worsened.

These views would eventually force her to leave Mozambique for Portugal in the early 1960s. Two years later, Lopes fled to Rome after her political activism led to prosecution by the Portuguese International and State Defense Police. There she befriended diplomats, journalists, intellectuals and key players of Italy’s art scene like Marino Marini, Renato Guttuso, Carlo Levi and Antonio Scordia, hosting them at famed rooftop dinners at her apartment alongside her husband Francesco Confaloni. “Throughout her life, up until her death, she was constantly socializing with poets and actors and artists,” said Love-Allotey, who noted that visitors to Lopes’ studio often left personal notes on the walls.

Black and white photo of woman in patterned dress sitting in art studio
Bertina Lopes in her studio in Maputo 1986. Courtesy Archivo Bertina Lopes/Bonhams

Bertina Lopes lived double lives as artist and activist

In addition to producing artwork that reflected current events in Mozambique, Lopes in Rome also served as the cultural attaché of Mozambique’s embassy. In part due to her connections with Mozambique presidents Joaquim Chissano and Armando Guebuza, she even played a role in peace accords that in 1992 put an end to 15 years of civil war in Mozambique, according to Bonhams.

Several pieces created by Lopes following this era will star in the upcoming Bonhams sale, including paintings like the 1996 Life is a volcanic eruption, 1995 Moments are the rings of time and 2000 The Song of nature; all of which are expected to realize between £15,000 ($19,000) to £20,000 ($25,000) each. Her auction record was established in 2022 when Bonhams sold Lopes’ 1976 work Ritratto for $26,500.

Throughout her lifetime, Lopes represented Mozambique in international exhibitions like the Venice Biennale, with her work currently displayed in its 2024 edition. Her art has been additionally showcased in major shows like a 1973 exhibition at Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Foundation and retrospectives at Rome’s Palazzo Venezia in 1986, Palazzo della Cancelleria Apostolica in 2002 and Saltoun Gallery in 2022.

Yet despite having been exhibited widely, Lopes was never commercially represented while alive. “I think she’s been overlooked,” said Love-Allotey. “Now, more people are gaining awareness and I really hope with this auction that more people discover her work.”

At Bonhams, 75 Works by Overlooked Artist Bertina Lopes Make Their Auction Debut