An elderly couple in France have accused an antiques dealer of defrauding them out of millions after they learned that the African mask they sold to them had been auctioned off and bought for €4.2 million. According to Le Monde newspaper, which first published the news, the couple filed a lawsuit against the merchant, asking the Court of Appeal in Nimes to determine the compensation owed to them.
The mask was discovered while the couple was cleaning out old items in their home. Then a local antique dealer agreed to buy it for €150 in September 2021. Months later they read in the newspaper that the mask had sold for millions at an auction house in Montpellier.
According to the listing, it is a traditional mask of the Fang tribe from Gabon used in weddings, funerals and other rituals.
The mask – a rare find outside Gabon, where there are fewer than a dozen museums worldwide – was brought to France by the husband’s grandfather, who was a colonial governor in Africa.
Le Monde reported that the couple’s lawyer believed the sale could be canceled because they mistakenly believed the mask was “useless.” The newspaper mentioned other cases, such as the owners of Nicolas Poussin’s paintings that were wrongly attributed to a less famous painter before the real artist was later revealed, which led to the cancellation of those contracts and the return of their owners.
Refused to settle
The case has already gone through several stages. The antiques dealer initially offered to settle out of court by paying the couple 300,000 euros for the mask, but they were unable to reach an agreement due to opposition from the couple’s children, according to court documents.
The couple then filed their case before a court in the city of Aleh, demanding a court order to confiscate the proceeds of the sale in addition to compensation. But the court of first instance eventually sided with the merchant, returning the money and ordering the couple to pay him €3,000 in damages and costs.
The couple appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in Nimes in November.
“The defendant is a used goods dealer, ostensibly offering an appraisal service on his website,” the couple claimed, according to court documents reported by the Artnet website.
“Only someone with a thorough knowledge of the art market can make a sale through an auction house, after requesting Carbon 14 expertise and hiring an expert on African masks.”
The defense said that the defendant “is a used items dealer, not an antiques dealer, and cannot be considered a professional appraiser.” “He has no knowledge of African art.” They added that he sought expert appraisals on the initiative of the auctioneer, not because he had reason to believe they were worth more.
Although the case remains open, the Court of Appeal has again ordered that the sale price – €3.1 million, after deducting costs and capital gains tax – be frozen pending a ruling.
source: after that
“Avid problem solver. Extreme social media junkie. Beer buff. Coffee guru. Internet geek. Travel ninja.”