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Article: Record Sale of a Rare African Mask Confirmed by French Justice

Record Sale of a Rare African Mask Confirmed by French Justice
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Record Sale of a Rare African Mask Confirmed by French Justice

The auction sale of a rare carved African mask, valued at 4.2 million euros, originally purchased for 150 euros from an elderly couple by a casual trader, was validated on Tuesday by the Alès Tribunal (Gard) and the Gabonese state.

The court ruled that the initial owners of the mask, an 88-year-old retired clerk and his 81-year-old wife, "failed to show diligence in assessing the true historical and artistic value of the property." 

"Their negligence and indifference made their claim unforgivable," the decision states, with the court rejecting their request to annul the sale and recover the amount paid by the anonymous buyer.

african mask
Photo Credit: Europe1

The couple turned to a second-hand dealer to get rid of the items that had accumulated in their vacation home in the Gard region of France. Among these seemingly worthless items was a wooden-carved mask that belonged to the grandfather, a former colonial governor in Africa, which they sold for 150 euros in September 2021.

The Gabonese Government's Case Was Dismissed

During an auction of African art objects, the second-hand dealer contacted the auction house in Montpellier (Hérault). The latter had estimated the value between 300,000 and 400,000 euros, after thorough analyses dated the Fang mask to the 19th century. 

The court ruled that it was not proven that the dealer, "prior to the sale, (...) was aware of the unique value of the sold mask."

The initial estimates requested by the dealer ranged from 100 to 600 euros. He set the mask's price "based on dedicated websites" and the opinions of bidders "who did not desire this object," his lawyer stated at the trial, emphasizing that his client "is not a professional in the field of evaluations or African art." 

The broker "had no specific knowledge in the field of African art," confirmed the court in its decision. The Gabonese Republic intervened in the trial to request the annulment of the sale and the repatriation of the mask, but its request was declared inadmissible by the court.

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