Thomas Kinkade, "Painter of Light," generates posthumous sales

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Apr 11, 2012 8:50pm EDT

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Thomas Kinkade made art that was reproduced countless times and lambasted by critics, but now galleries selling his work are reporting increased demand after the painter's unexpected death in Northern California at age 54.

A surge in sales of art by Kinkade, who died on Friday, marks a contradiction of sorts because consumers are seizing on the perceived scarcity of works by an artist who, during his lifetime, was all too willing to serve the mass market.

Nathan Ross, who with his grandfather owns the Original Thomas Kinkade Gallery in the painter's hometown of Placerville, California, northeast of Sacramento, said his company's website crashed due to a spike in the number of online visits.

That occurred within 24 hours of Kinkade's death at his home in Los Gatos, 45 miles south of San Francisco.

"Normally we do one or two web orders a day, and since Saturday we've taken 400-plus. I know this will pass, I just have no idea when," Ross said.

Homespun scenes with luminescent pastels drew legions of fans to Kinkade's paintings, but art critics largely dismissed the work of the self-described "Painter of Light" as kitsch. Kinkade painted cottages, churches, gardens, cityscapes and characters from the lore of the Walt Disney Co.

Even Ross admitted he does not display any Kinkade works in his home. But customers are clamoring for it out of a perceived scarcity, he said.

"A lot of people, they're just panicked," Ross said. "They say, ‘I've been wanting a Kinkade for years, and I'm afraid I'm not going to have an opportunity unless I get one right now.'"

Wade Jenkins, 63, owns three galleries in Arizona that sell Kinkade paintings, the largest of which is his Thomas Kinkade and More store in Glendale.

"Our business levels have increased dramatically, and it's not abating at this time," Jenkins said. "Thom is very popular, he was always very popular, and people want to make sure that they have some of his paintings to enjoy forever."

Reproductions of Kinkade's art were made in limited quantities, and once they sell out consumers can have a difficult time finding the same painting, Jenkins said.

A representative from the Thomas Kinkade Company, which publishes his works, did not return calls.

Noah Lang, who owns the Electric Works gallery in San Francisco and does not sell works by Kinkade, said despite his personal distaste for his art, "one has to marvel at the depth of interest he was able to awaken in the American public."

New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz wrote on the website Vulture.com that the art world did not look favorably on Kinkade because "none -- not one -- of his ideas" as conveyed in painting "is remotely original."

Five days after Kinkade was found dead, the cause has yet to be determined, but his family has said that he appeared to have died of natural causes.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Steve Gorman and Christopher Wilson)

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