A retired couple from the south of France took legal action to cancel the sale to a second-hand dealer, for 150 euros, of a Central African mask which belonged to them and was then resold for more than four million euros . “You have to show a little good faith and honesty. My clients would never have sold this mask at this price if they had known that it was an extremely rare piece,” their lawyer, Frédéric Mansat Jaffré, explained to AFP on Monday. The case will be pleaded on October 31 before the judicial court of Alès (Gard), whose decision is expected at the end of the year.
In September 2021, this couple from Eure-et-Loir, now aged 88 and 81, called on a second-hand dealer to get rid of the objects present in their second home in Gard that they wanted to sell, said the lawyer, confirming information published by Le Monde. In particular, they gave him, for 150 euros, a carved wooden mask that belonged to an ancestor, a former colonial governor in Africa.
Also read: A mask from Central Africa sold for 4.2 million despite protests
Six months later, the couple discovered while reading their newspaper that the sale of “an extremely rare 19th century mask, the prerogative of a secret society of the Fang people in Gabon”, was organized two days later in Montpellier. The photo confirms that it is indeed their old mask, whose aesthetic inspired the painters Modigliani and Picasso and of which only around ten copies remain in the world. The auction room catalog specifies that this mask had been “collected around 1917, under unknown circumstances, by the French colonial governor René-Victor Edward Maurice Fournier (1873-1931), probably during a tour of Gabon”.
During the sale, on March 26, 2022, the mask was sold for 4.2 million euros, excluding fees, practically a record for an object of this type, despite protests in the Gabonese room demanding its “restitution” to his home country. The second-hand dealer offered the sum of 300,000 euros to the retirees, who “never saw the check,” their lawyer explained to AFP. The Alès court could decide on a more equitable sharing of the proceeds of this sale, he indicated. Until then, the second-hand dealer's bank accounts remain blocked, by decision of the Nîmes Court of Appeal.