A French couple is suing an art dealer who purchased an African face mask from them for £129 and sold it for £3.6 million


An elderly couple is suing an art dealer who paid them £129 for an African face mask and then sold it for £3.6 million.

In 2021, an anonymous 81-year-old and 88-year-old couple from Nimes, France, were cleaning out their home and decided to sell the ‘Ngil’ mask. They sold it to a trader named Mr Z in September of that year.

After paying a low amount for it, he sold it for an astonishing £3.6 million at an auction in Montpellier a few months later.

The artwork is a traditional Gabonese Fang mask, which is used in rituals such as weddings and funerals.

According to ARTnews, the mask was brought to France by the husband’s grandpa, who was a colonial administrator in Africa.

The French couple had no idea the item was worth so much until they read about it in the papers.

They are suing Mr Z because they believe he defrauded them.

The lawsuit is still ongoing, but on June 28, the Nimes court of appeals declared that the couple’s case “appears to be well-founded in principle.” According to ARTnews, the court ordered that the sale proceeds be blocked until the lawsuit was resolved.

The couple claims that the dealer suppressed his concerns about the worth of the relic.

Instead of displaying the mask in his business, he contacted three French auction houses for an estimate of its value.

The final one was an African artifacts expert, who had the mask professionally analyzed.

The mask was put at auction with an estimate of between £259,416 and £345,888, but it sold for much more in March of last year.

When confronted with legal action, the dealer initially gave the couple £259,416; however, the offer was rejected because it was challenged by their children, according to court documents reviewed by Artnet News.

The Fang masks are carved from wood by the Fang people who live in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

The one that was auctioned off has ornate decorations on the lower part that seem like a long beard.

The mask was dated to the nineteenth century by tests, and an ethnologist expert said it was worn by the Ngil, a secret male organization that was part of the Fang people and controlled legal proceedings.

‘This piece of kaolin-coated cheesewood is consequently extraordinary in terms of its rarity, as just a dozen or so such reference pieces are known to exist worldwide, in Western museums and collections,’ according to court documents obtained by Artnet News.


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