An aged French couple who offered an “extraordinarily uncommon” African masks for €150 solely to find it was price tens of millions of euros have had a request to cancel the artefact’s sale thrown out in court docket.
The couple, of their 80s, offered the picket masks in September 2021 to a secondhand items seller as a part of quite a lot of antiquities together with African artefacts they’d saved of their secondary house in southern France.
The objects had belonged to an ancestor who was a colonial-era governor in Africa, and have been, they believed, of little worth.
The couple, who reside in Eure-et-Loir, south-west of Paris, offered the masks for €150, however in March 2022 it was offered to an unidentified purchaser at an public sale within the southern metropolis of Montpellier, fetching €4.2m.
The auctioneers described it as “an especially uncommon Nineteenth-century masks, property of a secret society of the Fang folks in Gabon”, an ethnic Bantu group, with solely round 10 such objects nonetheless in existence. One public sale home official instructed French TV: “This kind of masks is even rarer than a Leonardo da Vinci portray.”
The couple promptly filed for an injunction to cancel the unique sale, arguing there had been an “authentication error”. In addition they stated the masks’s purchaser “was conscious of the masks’s actual worth” on the time of the acquisition.
However the court docket rejected the request, saying the couple had did not make any try and get the masks valued earlier than promoting.
Their declare was characterised by “inexcusable negligence and frivolity”, the court docket stated, ruling that they weren’t owed any cash.
It additionally dominated that the antiquities seller, who himself was no skilled on African artwork, didn’t cheat them.
The seller truly supplied to pay them €300,000, the public sale beginning worth, however the couple’s kids refused, preferring to take the matter to court docket.
The couple’s lawyer, Frédéric Mansat Jaffré, stated after the decision that his purchasers have been “dumbstruck” by the choice and contemplating an attraction.
The court docket additionally threw out a separate movement by the federal government of Gabon to have the sale cancelled and the masks returned.
Members of the Gabon neighborhood in southern France attended the public sale in protest, saying the masks ought to by no means have been put up on the market within the first place and should be returned to the central African nation.
Earlier this 12 months Solange Bizeau, of the Collectif Gabon Occitanie, who had protested on the public sale with different members of the Gabon neighborhood, instructed the Guardian:
“Right this moment this court docket case is in regards to the grandchildren of the governor versus a secondhand seller. However neither of them is reliable by way of this masks. What we wish is the restitution of this masks to Gabon. This masks has a soul, it was used to determine justice in our villages. The dialogue in court docket has been about morality, however what in regards to the morality of the spoliation of artistic endeavors and our dignity? The place is the morality in that?”