SCOTTISH surrealist artist Benjamin Creme reached out from beyond the grave to grab the world’s attention once more last week as a shedload of his stolen artworks was discovered in a storage locker in southern California.

The bundle of 1,300 signed lithographs, valued at £600,000 and the product of Creme’s most fertile artistic period, were reported missing in 2012 but have now re-emerged mysteriously after the death of a sometime art collector whose relatives checked his belongings against the FBI’s national stolen art website, made a match, and then handed them in.

The find has been welcomed by his overjoyed widow Phyllis who yesterday told the Sunday National she was delighted at the news.

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“It’s lovely – just amazing,” she said. “Ben said he thought they would be at the bottom of the sea by now. He was quite fatalistic about everything but it would have been wonderful if he had known they had been found. It’s just so surprising.”

Phyllis said she had been told of the find by lithographer Michael Flaum who discovered their loss.

“He went into the storage facility and had the total shock of seeing the empty room,” she said.

The lithographs were owned Flaum and have been returned to him but more than 1,000 unframed prints from the same initial theft report are still missing. Los Angeles Police say they are investigating.

The latest twist in the stranger than fiction tale of Glasgow-born Benjamin Creme comes as the world still waits for his predictions on the Second Coming to be proved true and for the little museum in Santa Monica dedicated to his memory to move to new and more expansive premises after a $100,000 fundraising campaign.

The second of three children of a Russian ceramics importer father and an Irish Catholic mother, Creme was at first obsessed with music and becoming a composer and conductor but eventually painting took precedence.

He left school at 16 to devote all his energies to drawing and painting, influenced by Rembrandt, Picasso and Georges Braque. He mounted his first exhibition in Glasgow in 1940 and also, with fellow Scottish painter Robert Frame, illustrated a book of poetry, Cage Without Grievance, by WS Thomas.

In 1945 he and his first wife Peggy moved to London and set up a studio at Battersea. He switched from figurative painting to become an accomplished landscape painter and exhibited in galleries around the city.

In 1950 he visited the south of France for the first time to be inspired by “the light, shapes and landscapes” and his work began to become more stylised and abstract. His website describes it as “spiritual art” – completely abstract and symbolic – largely guided by his spiritual master which he says he first heard in 1959, and was responsible for a highly productive period in the late 1960s and 70s.

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In 1980 he published a book, The Reappearance of Christ and the Masters of Wisdom, and a series of full-page advertisements in major newspapers told how Creme’s spiritual master had contacted him telepathically to pass on the information that a Messiah-like person known as Maitreya the World Teacher was soon to return to Earth to usher in a new age of peace and harmony. The Day of Declaration (Second Coming) was June 21, 1982.

At a press conference in front of almost 100 sceptical journalists he posed a challenge that they should go out and find the Maitreya in the Asian community in Brick Lane in London. He had just flown in from Pakistan and worked incognito for a while as a hospital porter. The best efforts of the media turned up plenty of would-be imposters but not one remotely believable candidate.

WHEN 21 June 1982 came and went without noticeable effect on world stability Creme shrugged it off and kept insisting the Second Coming was just around the corner.

By 2010 a short-lived media frenzy was sparked by yet another prophecy resulting in British American academic and economist Raj Patel being identified as the missing Messiah because he very loosely fitted the profile. Notwithstanding that Creme said the Maitreya would deny who he was if found, an official announcement conceded that, whoever he might be, it was certainly not Patel.

Creme continued to defend his complex and philosophical musings. Adapting Buddhist teachings to his artistic temperament and Glasgow upbringing, he claimed to forecast many things through his online magazine Share International. These included the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union, the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid, the release of Middle East hostage Terry Waite and the resignation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

His detractors say there is no evidence his prophecies are accurate or even pre-date these events and point out he claimed there would be no Gulf War shortly before Saddam Hussein sent his tanks rolling over the border into Kuwait in 1991.

Some fundamentalist Christians accuse him of being part of a satanic conspiracy.

Despite failing health, in 2013 Creme appeared on the American prime-time Bill Maher show, billed as an artist and prophet. He posted an excerpt of his performance on his dedicated Youtube channel.

Creme, who lived in London with his second wife Phyllis, died in 2016 at the age of 93 but his legacy, difficult to understand as it is, remains.

Phyllis said she too had become a convert. The pair met in the Tate Gallery tearoom in 1966.

“He was a widower and I was training to be a teacher and in the ordinary course of events we would never have met,” she said, adding that she had eventually decided that his beliefs were so complex and detailed they must be true.

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“He had a contact with a master of wisdom, a highly evolved person. He had a telepathic contact which made it so real to us. We would ask him a question about mundane things and there was always an answer. It was a constant telepathic presence you could not deny.

“We had the experience of it day by day for years and years. The master also helped him with his paintings.”

She said he hadn’t been disappointed when his predictions had not come true. “He was totally convinced of the presence of the world teacher in the world and the masters of wisdom who are working behind the scenes.

“However they have to depend on humanity’s free will so they have to be adaptable and things change. He always accepted that.”

Asked what he would have thought about the state of the world now, Phyllis said he would have agreed it was a “terrible mess”. However she added: “There is always a counter to it. There is a big energy coming in the world which is stirring people up either to advance or to regress but eventually the advance forces will win out.”