A French couple has lost a court battle concerning a valuable African mask worth millions of dollars.

A pair from France originally sold an African mask for €150, believing it to be “extremely rare,” but later found out it was actually worth millions. They attempted to withdraw the sale of the artifact, but their request was rejected by the court.

In September 2021, an elderly couple in their 80s sold a wooden mask and other African artifacts to a secondhand dealer. These items were part of a larger collection that the couple had stored in their secondary residence in southern France.

These possessions were originally owned by an ancestor who served as a governor during the colonial period in Africa. They were perceived to hold little significance.

The pair, residing in Eure-et-Loir, located south-west of Paris, originally sold the mask for €150. However, in March 2022, it was purchased by an unknown buyer at an auction in Montpellier, a southern city, for a staggering €4.2 million.

The auctioneers referred to it as a highly uncommon mask from the 19th century, belonging to a secretive society of the Fang people in Gabon. The Fang people are an ethnic Bantu group, and there are only 10 known masks of this kind remaining. A representative from the auction house stated on French TV that this mask is even scarcer than a painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

The pair quickly sought a court order to annul the initial transaction, stating that there was a mistake in verifying its authenticity. They further asserted that the purchaser of the mask was aware of its true worth when making the purchase.

However, the court denied the request, stating that the couple made no effort to have the mask appraised before selling it.

The court stated that their assertion was marked by “unforgivable carelessness and frivolousness.” As a result, the court ruled that they were not entitled to any compensation.

The court also determined that the art dealer, who lacked expertise in African art, did not deceive them.

The dealer initially proposed to pay €300,000, which was the starting price at the auction. However, the couple’s children declined and decided to bring the issue to court.

After the ruling, the lawyer representing the couple, Frédéric Mansat Jaffré, stated that his clients were shocked by the outcome and are contemplating appealing.

The court rejected another request made by the Gabonese government to void the sale and retrieve the mask.

The Gabonese community in southern France protested at the auction, arguing that the mask should not have been sold and should be returned to Gabon.

Earlier this year, Solange Bizeau, from the Collectif Gabon Occitanie, along with other members of the Gabon community, expressed their disapproval of the auction to the Guardian. Bizeau stated, “This court case is about the governor’s grandchildren and a secondhand dealer, neither of whom have legitimate ownership of this mask. Our goal is to have the mask returned to Gabon.”

This mask holds significance as it was utilized to promote fairness in our communities. The court’s deliberation has focused on morality, yet what about the morality of stealing artwork and degrading our self-worth? Where does that fit in with morality?

Source: theguardian.com

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