Famed American Painter Thomas Kinkade Dies at 54

by J-Mirabelli

"There's been million-seller books and million-seller CDs. But there hasn't been, until now, million-seller art. We have found a way to bring to millions of people, an art that they can understand."

“I’m a warrior for light … With whatever talent and resources I have, I’m trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel.” Thomas Kinkade

Millions of his paintings and prints hang in homes around the world. His idealized vision of the world usually depicted scenes like a churning seascape or a colorful garden or a cottage brimming with warm light. This mass appeal earned Thomas Kinkade $50 million from 1997 to 2005 alone.

Kinkade, who died Friday, April 6th of what appeared to be natural causes in Los Gatos, California, embraced his popularity even though many in the art community criticized him for unapologetically appealing to the widest possible audience.

Critics have described Kinkade’s works as little more than mass-produced inferior art. Critics aside, people have paid from a few hundred dollars for paper prints to $10,000 or more for canvas editions he has signed and retouched. It wasn’t long before his paintings were being reproduced to hang in the homes of an estimated 1 in 20 people in the U.S.

“In their (art critics) minds, he represented the lowest type of art,” said Jeffrey Vallance, an artist who hosted a show of Kinkade’s artwork in 2004. “He was different from other artists. You kind of felt like he was giving people what they wanted.”

He marketed his work as printed reproductions and other licensed products via The Thomas Kinkade Company. He characterized himself as “Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light”, a phrase he protected through trademark. He also claimed to be “America’s most-collected living artist”.

Kinkade’s vision paid off handsomely. At its peak, through franchised galleries, reproduced artwork and spin-off products, the Kinkade brand earned some $100 million annually and is hanging in roughly 10 million homes.

His brand grew even stronger when he partnered with big name retailers like Wal-Mart and Hallmark. He was also the author and subject of more than 100 books, many of which went to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.

“It’s mainstream art, not art you have to look at to try to understand, or have an art degree to know whether it’s good or not,” said Mike Koligman, a longtime fan who owns Kinkade galleries in San Diego and Utah.

Yet despite his wealth, the California native was an avid supporter of non-profit organizations and often lauded for his generous donations. He once gave an Anaheim widow $25,000 worth of his art to replace what she’d lost in a fire.

Thomas Kinkade grew up in a trailer in the city of Placerville, California. A self-described product of a broken home and a tough childhood, he once worked as a film animator and sold his paintings at supermarket parking lots in Placerville. After hitting upon the formula for inspirational landscapes and village scenes, he and his wife put their savings into publishing the first reproductions of his paintings in 1984. They sold 1,000 copies for $35 each and never looked back.

He had battled alcohol abuse, and in 2010 his mug shot went viral after his arrest on a drunk driving charge. He later pleaded no contest to the charge.

In addition to his wife, from whom he was legally separated, he is survived by their daughters, Merritt, Chandler, Winsor and Everett. He also has a brother, Pat, who works for Kinkade’s company. Thomas Kinkade was 54.

Following the announcement of his death, Kinkade’s paintings were scooped up by collectors nationwide. Kinkade Galleries across the U.S. reported a surge in sales of originals and limited-edition reproductions as fans mourned the “Painter of Light’s” death.

Read more:

Thomas Kinkade dies suddenly | LA Times

Thomas Kinkade paintings selling swiftly | Washington Post

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