French couple who sold rare mask for €150 lose bid to cancel sale after discovering it was worth millions

19 December 2023, 19:27

The mask is worth more than four million euros
The mask is worth more than four million euros. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A couple who sold a rare African mask for €150 have had their bid to cancel the sale rejected after discovering it was worth millions of euros.

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The couple, who are in their 80s, sold the "extremely rare" wooden mask in September 2021 to a secondhand goods dealer in southern France.

It had belonged to a colonial-era governor in Africa, though the couple were completely unaware of its value.

The sale went through for just €150 but six months later, it was sold at an auction in Montpellier for €4.2m.

It was described by auctioneers by "an extremely rare 19th-century mask, property of a secret society of the Fang people in Gabon".

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The elderly couple applied for the original sale to be cancelled, arguing that there had been an authentication error.

A French court rejected the bid, arguing they had made no such effort.

The dealer had offered to pay them €300,000 to settle the matter but they saw it through to court.

“Today this court case is about the grandchildren of the governor versus a secondhand dealer. But neither of them is legitimate in terms of this mask," Solange Bizeau, who protested against the auction, previously told The Guardian.

"What we want is the restitution of this mask to Gabon.

"This mask has a soul, it was used to establish justice in our villages. The discussion in court has been about morality, but what about the morality of the spoliation of works of art and our dignity? Where is the morality in that?”