He was both beloved and derided, but his work was everywhere. I imagine there are very few Americans who have not seen a Kinkade painting, print, calendar, notebook, computer wallpaper, greeting card, potholder, Christmas ornament or coffee mug. He was also a devoted Christian.
Artist Thomas Kinkade once said that he had something in common with Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell: He wanted to make people happy.
And he won success with brushwork paintings that focused on idyllic landscapes, cottages and churches — highly popular works that became big sellers for dealers across the United States.
The self-described “Painter of Light,” who died Friday at age 54, produced sentimental scenes of country gardens and pastoral landscapes in dewy morning light that were beloved by many but criticized by the art establishment.
Kinkade died at his home in Los Gatos in the San Francisco Bay Area of what appeared to be natural causes, said family spokesman David Satterfield.
He claimed to be the nation’s most collected living artist, and his paintings and spin-off products were said to fetch some $100 million a year in sales, and to be in 10 million homes in the United States.
Those light-infused renderings are often prominently displayed in buildings, malls, and on products — generally depicting tranquil scenes with lush landscaping and streams running nearby. Many contain images from Bible passages.
“I’m a warrior for light,” Kinkade, a self-described devout Christian, told the San Jose Mercury News in 2002, a reference to the medieval practice of using light to symbolize the divine. “With whatever talent and resources I have, I’m trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel.”
Before Kinkade’s Media Arts Group went private in the middle of the past decade, the company took in $32 million per quarter from 4,500 dealers across the country, according to the Mercury News. The cost of his paintings range from hundreds of dollars to more than $10,000.
According to his website, Kinkade’s paintings have been reproduced in hand-signed lithographs, canvas prints, books, posters, calendars, magazine covers, cards, collector plates and figurines. The website touts his Disney collection and offers a gallery locator, where fans can find nearby dealers.
UPDATE: Thomas L. McDonald has a very good appraisal of Kinkade over at his blog:
Kinkade’s most successful work was crass and unappealing, but at least he was trying to create something beautiful that evoked a good feeling in people, no matter how badly he went about it. The modern art most praised by the art establishment is nasty, ugly, pointless, dehumanizing garbage with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Crap artists like Tracy Emin are lionized by critics and showered with cash for turning out un-art that shows nothing but contempt for humanity.
The cosmic joke is that, technically, Kinkade’s skill are so far superior to Emin’s that it’s almost comical, but he made the mistake of peddling hope instead of despair, and that’s an unforgivable sin in the post-modern world. If his cozy cottages were splashed with blood and sheathed in condoms, he’d have his own wing in the MOMA by now. And that, not Kinkade’s comforting kitschy fantasies, is the real crime of modern art.
In any event, may he rest in piece, and may God grant comfort to those who loved him.