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Elderly couple sue art dealer after African mask they sold him for $158 was later auctioned for $4.4 million
Featured Image Credit: PASCAL GUYOT/Contributor/Spencer Platt/Staff

Elderly couple sue art dealer after African mask they sold him for $158 was later auctioned for $4.4 million

An elderly French couple flogged an antique mask for just $158, with the person they sold it to going on to sell it for $4.4 million

An elderly couple who sold an African face mask for $158 are now suing the art dealer after it went on to be sold on for millions of dollars.

The unnamed pair from Nîmes, France, were clearing out their property in 2021 and decided to sell the quirky mask to a local dealer.

In September of that year, they flogged it for $158 to a dealer known as 'Mr. Z' who then went on to make millions from it.

Mr Z sold the piece of art - which was a traditional Fang mask from Gabon used in weddings, funerals, and other rituals - at an auction in Montpellier a few months later for a staggering $4.4 million.

Little did the French couple (aged 81 and 88) know how rare the item was and only learnt of Mr Z's successful sale when it was written about in the newspaper.

According to ARTnews, the Fang mask was brought to France by the husband's grandfather who had once been a colonial governor in Africa.

They are now suing Mr Z, who they believe cheated them.

The "Ngil" mask of the Fang people of Gabon sold for more than $4.4 million.
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP via Getty Images

The lawsuit has been ongoing for a while and, as of June 28, the court of appeals in Nîmes ruled that their case 'appears to be well-founded in principle' and has since frozen the proceeds of the sale as the case continues, Artnet News reports.

The disgruntled couple have argued that Mr Z knew the true value of the face mask before buying it from them for 0.00359090909 percent of the price it was later sold for.

The valuable mask is thought to date back to 19th Century and was originally valued somewhere between €300,000 ($317,416) and €400,000 ($423,222) when Mr Z sought out professional advice.

In terms of its rarity, court documents seen by Artnet News read: "This piece of kaolin-coated cheesewood is therefore exceptional in terms of its rarity, as only a dozen or so other reference specimens are known to exist worldwide, in Western museums and collection."

Auctioneer Jean-Christophe Giuseppi poses next to a "Ngil" mask.
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP via Getty Images

Apparently the dealer offered the French couple €300,000 in compensation in light of their complaint, but they rejected his offer.

Their lawyer has argued that Mr. Z is 'a second-hand dealer and not an antique dealer and cannot be considered an valuation professional'.

"He has no knowledge of African art," they added.

As it stands, their case remains open and will do so until a decision is made.

It's currently being reviewed by a higher court in Nîmes, according to reports.

Topics: Art, Money, News, World News, France