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Thomas Kinkade (January 19, 1958 – April 6, 2012) was an American painter of popular realistic, bucolic, and idyllic subjects. He is notable for the mass marketing of 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 but one originally attributed to the English master J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851). It has been estimated that 1 in every 20 American homes owns a copy of one of his paintings.
He was born William Thomas Kinkade in Sacramento County, California. Kinkade grew up in the town of Placerville, California, graduated from El Dorado High School in 1976, and attended the University of California, Berkeley, and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He married Nanette Wiley in 1982, and the couple had four daughters: Merritt (b. 1988), Chandler (b. 1991), Winsor (b. 1995) and Everett (b. 1997), all named for famous artists. He and his wife had been separated for over a year before his death in 2012.
Some of the people who mentored and taught him prior to college were Charles Bell and Glenn Wessels. Wessels encouraged Kinkade to go to the University of California at Berkeley. Kinkade's relationship with Wessels is the subject of a semi-autobiographical film released in 2008, The Christmas Cottage. After two years of general education at Berkeley, Kinkade transferred to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
In June 1980, Kinkade spent a summer traveling across the United States with his college friend James Gurney. The two of them finished their journey in New York and secured a contract with Guptill Publications to produce a sketching handbook. Two years later they produced The Artist's Guide to Sketching, which was one of Guptill Publications' best-sellers that year. The success of the book landed him and Gurney at Ralph Bakshi Studios creating background art for the 1983 animated feature film Fire and Ice. While working on the film, Kinkade began to explore the depiction of light and of imagined worlds. After the film, Kinkade earned his living as a painter, selling his originals in galleries throughout California.
A key feature of Thomas Kinkade's paintings are their glowing highlights and saturated pastel colors. Rendered in highly idealistic American scene painting values, his works often portray bucolic, idyllic settings such as gardens, streams, stone cottages, lighthouses and Main Streets. His hometown of Placerville (where his works are omnipresent) is the inspiration of many of his street and snow scenes. He has also depicted various Christian themes including the Christian cross and churches.
The fine-art world overwhelmingly derided Kinkade's work as little more than commercially successful kitsch. Kinkade received criticism for the extent to which he had commercialized his art, for example, selling his prints on the QVC home shopping network. Others have written that his paintings are merely kitsch, without substance, and have described them as chocolate box art and "mall art." In a 2001 interview, Kinkade proclaimed, "I am really the most controversial artist in the world."
Kinkade said he was placing emphasis on the value of simple pleasures and that his intent was to communicate inspirational, life-affirming messages through his work. A self-described "devout Christian" (even giving all 4 of his children the middle name "Christian"), Kinkade said he gained his inspiration from his religious beliefs and that his work was intended to contain a larger moral dimension. He has also said that his goal as an artist was to touch people of all faiths, to bring peace and joy into their lives through the images he creates. Many pictures contain specific chapter-and-verse allusions to certain Bible passages.
Kinkade's works are sold by mail order and in dedicated retail outlets. Some of the prints also feature light effects that are painted onto the print surface by hand by "skilled craftsmen," touches that add to the illusion of light and the resemblance to an original work of art, and which are then sold at higher prices. Licensing with Hallmark and other corporations have made it possible for Kinkade's images to be used extensively on other merchandise such as calendars, jigsaw puzzles, greeting cards, and CDs. By December 2009, his images also appeared on Walmart gift cards.
He has also authored or been the subject of over 120 books and is the only artist to license his trademark and artwork to multiple housing developments. Kinkade is reported to have earned $53 million for his artistic work in the period 1997 to May 2005. At the height of his business, there was a national network of several hundred Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries; however, they began to falter during the Late-2000s recession. In June 2010, his Morgan Hill, California, manufacturing operation that reproduces the art filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, listing nearly $6.2 million in creditors' claims. The company, Pacific Metro, plans to reduce its costs by outsourcing much of its manufacturing.
Kinkade died in his Monte Sereno, California home on April 6, 2012. It was reported following autopsy that he died of "acute intoxication" from alcohol and Valium. He was 54 years old. According to Amy Pinto-Walsh, his girlfriend of 18 months, Kinkade had been at home drinking the night prior to his death. His wife, Nanette, had filed for divorce two years earlier and was traveling in Australia with their daughters. His family initially said he appeared to have died of natural causes. Pinto-Walsh stated that the artist "died in his sleep, very happy, in the house he built, with the paintings he loved and the woman he loved."
He is survived by his wife Nanette and their daughters Merritt, Chandler, Winsor and Everett. He also has a brother, Dr. Patrick Kinkade, who is an associate professor and chairman of the Criminal Justice department at Texas Christian University. Following Kinkade's death, his wife Nanette sought a restraining order against Pinto-Walsh, to prevent her from publicly releasing information and photos with respect to Kinkade, his marriage, his business and his personal conduct that "would be personally devastating" to Kinkade's wife. In December 2012 Nanette Kinkade and Amy Pinto announced they had reached a secret settlement in their feud involving his multi-million dollar estate and other issues.