in ,

French Court Validates Disputed Sale of Rare Gabonese Fang Mask

The unique African sculpted mask that fetched 4.2 million euros at auction was approved by French judges on Tuesday. The original buyer of the mask, an octogenarian couple, had paid 150 euros for it.

The court in Alès (Gard) also rejected the Gabonese government’s intervention during the hearing at the end of October, which was to seek the cancellation of the mask sales and the return of this cultural treasure.

Regardless, the court determined that the original owners of the mask, a retired 88-year-old court clerk and his 81-year-old wife, “had shown no diligence in appreciating the fair historical and artistic value of the property” when they hired a second-hand dealer in September 2021 to get rid of the clutter they had accumulated in their vacation home in the Gard region.

Among these seemingly insignificant items were musical instruments, spears, a circumcision knife, bellows, and a carved wooden mask that belonged to the grandpa, a former colonial governor of Africa. Eventually, the mask was sold for 150 euros.

Of the approximately twelve that survive in the world, this “extremely rare 19th-century mask, the prerogative of a secret society of the Fang people in Gabon” brought 4.2 million euros (expenses not included) at an auction in Montpellier, south of France in March 2022.

Just twelve of these “extremely rare 19th-century mask, the prerogative of a secret society of the Fang people in Gabon” are known to exist. It was sold for 4.2 million euros, excluding costs, to an anonymous buyer at an auction in Montpellier, south of France, in March 2022. This amount is essentially a record for an object of this type.

This unusual item was “collected around 1917, under unknown circumstances, by the French colonial governor René-Victor Edward Maurice Fournier (1873-1931), probably during a tour of Gabon,” according to the Montpellier auction house’s catalog.

The 80-year-old couple requested that the sale of the mask be halted by the courts because “their consent was vitiated by the error made regarding its authenticity.” In addition, they said that the dealer had misled them by saying he “had doubts about the mask or was not unaware of its real value.” They claimed that the fact that he had promptly hired experts to provide evaluations following the purchase was proof of this.

Negligence” on the part of the sellers

“Their negligence and carelessness characterize the inexcusable nature” of the plaintiffs’ claim, replied the court, which therefore did not grant their request to cancel the sale or recover the amount paid by the final buyer.

“My clients have fallen off their chairs”, reacted Frédéric Mansat-Jaffré, the couple’s lawyer, who is not ruling out an appeal: “With this decision, the court has created a new jurisprudence, (…) an obligation to provide information. You, me, all individuals will now have to ask a professional, before going to another professional…”

In its decision, the court also ruled that it had not been proven that the dealer, “prior to the sale, (…) was aware of the singular value of the mask sold”. He “had no specific knowledge of African art”, the court added.

After obtaining initial estimates valuing the mask at between 100 and 600 euros, the secondhand dealer contacted the Montpellier (south of France) auction house, during a sale of African art objects. Extensive analysis enabled the 19th-century Fang mask to be dated and valued at between 300,000 and 400,000 euros.

“The law has been applied correctly”, reacted Me Patriciat Pijot, the second-hand dealer’s lawyer: “The argument I insisted on at the hearing has been heard. The people who knew most about the value of the mask were the sellers, as they had had this object in their home for a long time”.

At the hearing, the shopkeeper denied any intention to defraud. As proof of his honesty, his lawyer recalled, he had even offered to pay the couple 300,000 euros, the amount of the auctioneers’ initial bid.

A memorandum of understanding to this effect was due to be signed at the end of April 2022. But, as the court recalls, it failed in the face of opposition from the couple’s children.

Written by PH

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rwanda: Construction of First mRNA Vaccine Factory Reaches Key Phase

Militants Linked To IS Kill 10 In Uganda