A mother lode of stolen paintings was discovered this month in a Los Angeles storage locker. The works — some 1,200 of them — are by Scottish painter and mystic Benjamin Creme, and valued at around £600,000 (~$777,000). In 2012, 2,300 of Cremes’s works were reported stolen from a storage locker owned by lithographer Michael Flaum, a friend of the artist who worked with Creme to make the prints in the 1960s and ’70s.
According to reporting by the BBC, the paintings were discovered in the storage locker of a person who had passed away a few years ago; a relative of the deceased contacted the authorities after coming across the paintings among this undisclosed person’s stored possessions. The relationship of this person to Creme or the theft of his paintings is unclear.
“It was completely empty,” said Flaum, quoted in The New York Times recalling the day in August 2012 that he discovered 2,300 signed and numbered prints by Creme missing from his Los Angeles storage locker. “It’s very traumatic.” Now a piece of the seven-year mystery has been solved, with the discovery of some of these works in another storage unit. The relative apparently saw the paintings in the FBI’s National Stolen Art File after discovering them among the effects left in the storage locker. She turned them in to local authorities in San Fernando, CA, and they eventually made their way back to the astounded Flaum, who says the majority of them appear to be in good shape.
Among the recovered works were prints titled “Flame-Coloured Deva,” “Polarity,” and “Soul Infusion.” These are signature themes for Creme, who incorporated themes of mysticism in his abstract paintings, and by the 1960s had amassed a sort of cult following to his prophesies of the second coming of Jesus Christ, whom he believed to be a deity called Maitreya the World Teacher.
“His esoteric painting period, begun in 1964, stands as a unique and powerful interpretation of the theosophical ideas which had been introduced to the art world by artists such as Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich, and Klee,” reads a biographical description on the home page of the Benjamin Creme Museum, which has continued to keep the painter’s artistic and metaphysical legacy alive, even after his death in 2016 at the age of 93.