Art Dealer Accused of Cheating Collector of $1.2 Million

Times Staff Writer

One of California’s most prominent art dealers was released from jail Saturday after being arrested for allegedly defrauding a Canadian collector of $1.2 million in artworks by such contemporary artists as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.

Authorities said Douglas J. Chrismas, 41, was freed on $40,000 bail from Los Angeles County Central Jail and is expected to appear at a preliminary hearing Feb. 19 on seven counts of grand theft.

Chrismas, owner of the nationally known Flow Ace Gallery in the West Hollywood area, was arrested Thursday by Los Angeles police detectives and arraigned the same day. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Chrismas is accused of reselling avant-garde paintings, collages and sculptures that Canadian collector C. Frederick Stimpson had purchased from Chrismas over several years, according to Detective Dorothy A. Pathe of the Los Angeles Police Department bunco-forgery unit.


Stimpson had allowed Chrismas to keep the artworks in Chrismas’ gallery because Stimpson had little space available in his Vancouver home, Pathe said. One of the works, “Rodeo Palace,” by Rauschenberg, is a collage of paintings that measures 12 feet by 16 feet. It is valued at $600,000.

Rather than displaying Stimpson’s art works as he agreed to do, Chrismas sold most of them to other collectors who were unaware that the works belonged to someone else, authorities allege.

Collateral for Bank Loan

The Rauschenberg collage was used last year by Chrismas as collateral for a bank loan of approximately $200,000 and was later seized by the bank when Chrismas defaulted on the note, Pathe said.

Stimpson discovered that his artworks were gone in February, 1985, when he made a surprise visit to Chrismas’ gallery. When he confronted Chrismas, the art dealer offered to “round up” the errant pieces but never did, Pathe said.

“The art world kind of keeps these things to themselves, but I think that when our victim (Stimpson) realized that his collection was gone, he didn’t really have any choice but to come to us,” Pathe said.

Stimpson filed a lawsuit against Chrismas’ gallery last year in Los Angeles Superior Court. However, the suit was stayed after the gallery filed for bankruptcy. In October, Stimpson contacted the Police Department and an investigation was started.

Chrismas could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Since opening more than 10 years ago, the Flow Ace Gallery has earned a reputation among art writers and collectors as a center for contemporary art.

The gallery’s former art director, Irit Krygier, who now runs her own art studio in West Los Angeles, said Saturday that during the late 1970s, Chrismas was “probably the most important or one of the most important dealers in Los Angeles.”