Rare Pieces of African Art Bought For Nothing And Sold For Millions
A piece of African art was sold for nothing to an antique dealer, only to be resold for over €4 million. The antique dealer was sued for fraud.
It happened in France, where the original sellers - an 81-year-old woman and her 88-year-old husband - did not know the object's value, an African mask they found cleaning their holiday home two years ago.
They later took the African mask and showed it to an antique shop to sell.
Both parties agreed on a price of €150.
The couple's lawyer said his clients mistakenly believed the mask was "worthless", according to Le Monde.
The mask turned out to be a rare piece of African art - a 19th-century Ngil mask used in rituals by the Fang people of Gabon.
There are only a few such examples in the world, in Western museums and collections.
The antiquities dealer, however, valued the mask and radiocarbon-dated it, and the piece was auctioned for about €310,000, but in March 2022 it was sold for €4.2 million, according to court documents.
Antique dealer sued
The couple sued the antique shop, seeking more than €5 million in damages. They allege they were cheated because they were not told how valuable the piece was.
According to their complaint, the antique dealer did not display the item in its shop but contacted Drouot Estimation and Fauve Paris, two French auction houses. Both said the value of the mask was under €600.
It was only after the antiquarian sought a third expert and did radiocarbon dating that the mask was auctioned for a much higher sum.
"Only a person with a perfect knowledge of the art market is capable of mounting a sale through an auction house after requesting a carbon-14 appraisal and enlisting the help of an African mask expert," the complaint states.
Money From the sale was confiscated pending trial
The couple claimed that the antique dealer also approached their gardener to get more information about their family and lineage, trying to figure out if the mask might be authentic.
According to court documents, the antique dealer split the money from the sale with the gardener. The antique dealer tried to settle the case by paying the couple €300,000, but their children resisted the amicable settlement.
A lower court initially sided with the pawnbroker, ordering the couple to pay damages and fees of €3,000. But the couple appealed the decision and the case remains open.
Meanwhile, an appeals court has seized the money from the sale, some €3m after taxes.