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Camden News - by TOM FOOT
Published: 5 February 2009

The painting by Matthias Kauage
Lost in the post, found at auction: bizarre journey of missing painting

Royal Mail launches investigation after art work is undelivered and sold as ‘lost post’

ROYAL Mail has launched an investigation amid accusations that a valuable painting meant for one of London’s top art galleries was sold in a “lost post” auction.
Art dealer Rebecca Hossack has asked for an explanation after the painting by the late artist Matthias Kauage was allegedly passed by post staff to an auction house – even though the parcel was marked with her name and address.
The painting had made a 10,000 mile journey from Australia after one of Ms Hossack’s friends left it to her in a will.
She only realised the acrylic painting had gone missing in the post system when a man who said he bought the painting at an auction contacted her and offered to sell it back to her.
The buyer, who did not want to be identified, told the New Journal he was shocked when Ms Hossack reacted by calling in police.
“It was strange that it didn’t get to her, but it does happen from time to time,” he said. Ms Hossack, who runs a gallery named after herself in Bloomsbury and for the last three years has served as a Conservative councillor, was collecting works by Mr Kauage for a potential exhibition.
She said: “I was so angry I took it to the highest level. It is just unbelievable. I have been in the area for 20 years. The parcel had my name on it so why did it end up in the auction?
“I have been trying to find out about this for months but the [Royal Mail] complaints department is hopeless – I have never met so much incompetence in my life.”
Royal Mail admits that it auctions off thousands of unclaimed or undeliverable packages.
The man who picked up the painting said he regularly attends the auctions and then sells the goods on the internet. He told the New Journal he was upset after Ms Hossack had refused to thank him when he ­later agreed to return the painting for free.
He said: “She seemed like a decent type. I decided to call her and see if she would buy it off me for £300, which I didn’t think it was unreasonable for a recognised artist and for painting that was worth at least £1,000.”
He was later contacted by police after Ms Hossack filed a complaint.
“I’ve got a young daughter and I don’t want the police coming round treating me like a criminal so in the end I decided to give her back the painting for free – it had only cost me £20 after all,” the buyer said.
“I never received a word of thanks from her. She is clearly minted and I am not. She has wound me right up.”
Mr Kauage was honoured with an OBE in the Queen’s birthday list and a painting he presented to her now hangs in Buckingham Palace. He died in 2003 days before Ms Hossack organised his first ever exhibition of his works in Bristol.
Ms Hossack features in many of Mr Kauage’s paintings, often depicted as a giant with one eye, standing alongside the Queen. The gallery owner has around 100 original Kauage prints in storage and is in talks with the British Museum about the prospect of an exhibition.
She said: “Sometimes he would come and stay in my little flat for three months. We couldn’t speak to each other because he had no English and I didn’t know Papua New Guinean – but we just got on. It really broke my heart when he died.”
In relation to the man who bought her painting, she added: “Maybe I’ll send a card saying thank you – but not until I get to bottom of what happened to my painting.”
A Royal Mail spokesman said the package should never have been up for sale because an address is clearly marked on the front and therefore not part of the criteria for auction lots. He added: “Royal Mail have thoroughly investigated this issue but have been unable to find any evidence or record of this item having travelled through our system,” he added.

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