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Elderly French Couple Who Sued A Dealer Over Sale Of African Mask Loses Court Case

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After a rare African mask was discovered in the attic of an elderly French couple, a second-hand dealer won the right to keep the €4.2 million ($4.6 million) proceeds from the sale.

He was brought in to assist the couple, who had sold him the mask for €150 ($165), in clearing out their attic. The couple filed a lawsuit, claiming that the item’s value had been misrepresented to them.

The judge, however, disapproved, claiming that they had overlooked the true value of the artwork.

The mask’s history

There are only a few dozen Ngil masks in the world, according to the Fang people of Gabon, who made this rare piece. Members of the Ngil secret society would have worn it.

René-Victor Edward Maurice Fournier, the plaintiff’s grandfather and a French colonial governor, most likely obtained the 19th-century wooden mask “in unknown circumstances” around 1917. Up until the dealer purchased it, it was owned by the family. Later on, it was bought by an unidentified buyer at auction.

The couple claimed the dealer had misled them about the mask’s true value and had gone to court to demand a portion of the sale’s proceeds. The dealer claimed he had no idea it was so valuable and claimed that by giving the couple €300,000—the mask’s original value—he had shown them his goodwill.

His attorney contended that before selling the item, the couple had neglected to ascertain its actual value. Patricia Pijot told French media that “you should be a bit more curious before giving it up when you’ve got such an item at home.”

The judge found in favour of the dealer, finding that the couple had not done their homework when determining the mask’s “historical and artistic” value.

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