Court Rules Against French Couple Who Undercharged During Sale of Mask

A "Ngil" mask of the Fang people of Gabon - Copyright Pascal Guyot/AFP

A Southern France court has thrown out a case involving a suit brought before it by a retired couple who claim to have been swindled of their precious African antique. The couple received only €150 for the sale of an artefact that would later be discovered to be worth millions of euros.

The couple’s argument in court was to cancel the original sale of the artefact to a second-hand art dealer after the realisation of €300,000 as the starting price of the artefact at an auction.

The court justified its decision with the explanation that the couple, 80, made no efforts to authenticate the value of the said artefact when they were selling to an art dealer, hence, cannot lay claims to money that has been generated from its second sale afterwards.

The judges further argued that the background of the dealer shows he has no knowledge of African art and so, did not deceive the couple.

“Their negligence and carelessness characterise the inexcusable nature of their error. Therefore, their request to cancel the sale on this basis is dismissed,” the judges said in their decision.

In a report by Euronews Culture, the art dealer was willing to reimburse the couple with the starting price of the artefact at an auction but their children refused and suggested a legal battle instead.

The antiquity, an off-white mask is said to have belonged to an ancestor of one of the couple who was once a colonial ruler in Africa.

The African mask is also identified as an “extremely rare 19th-century mask, belonging to a secret society of the Fang people in Gabon”  by auctioneers

An unnamed auction house is also reported to have told French media that the antiquity was “even rarer than a Leonardo da Vinci painting,” as there are only ten such masks still in existence.

Meanwhile, the same court threw out a petition by the Gabon government to pause the sale of the mask and to return it to its origin. They defended that there was little information about how the mask got to France to rule in the favour of Gabon.

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