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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

African mask sells for record $7.5 million

A 19th century West African Fang mask from Gabon  sold for more than $7.5 million at auction in Paris on Saturday.
 (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

PARIS – A celebrated 19th century mask by the West African Fang tribe fetched more than $7.5 million at auction in Paris, a record for a work of primitive art, organizers said Sunday.

The mask, which is said to have inspired artist Pablo Picasso, brought in four times its estimated price of $1.9 million on Saturday, organizers of the sale at the Drouot auction house said.

The buyer’s identity was not disclosed.

The mask was part of one of France’s premier private collections of primitive art, which was on the block at Drouot over the weekend. Started by Pierre Verite and his son Claude in the 1920s, the collection features works mostly from France’s former colonies in West and Central Africa.

Though it was kept out of public view for most of the 20th century, the collection made a big impression on celebrated artists such as Picasso, Henri Matisse and surrealist Andre Breton, who saw it in the 1930s.

More than 500 pieces were up for auction and had been estimated to bring in between $19 million and $25 million – but prices appeared to be rising far beyond those expectations.

Of 96 pieces sold Saturday, eight passed the mark of $1.27 million, said auctioneer Muriel Berlinghi-Domingo.

“Prices are soaring in this sale, which is perhaps the last of this importance,” she said. “As this is a historic collection and many of the objects have almost never been displayed, we’re seeing a lot of competition.”