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The mystery of Thomas Kinkade: Did art world ridicule trigger ultra successful painter's overdose?

The mystery of Thomas Kinkade: Did art world ridicule trigger ultra successful painter's overdose?

California medical examiners have ruled that artist Thomas Kinkade died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and valium, according to an autopsy report first published by NBC Bay Area News.

The self-proclaimed "Painter of Light," who received equal parts praise and scorn during his career, passed away at his California home an hour south of San Francisco on April 6. He was 54.

Through a national network of commercial galleries, Kinkade amassed more than $50 million from 1997 to 2005, maintained a reputation as one of the world's most-collected living artists before his sudden death. His authorized machine-etched signature, made with paint laced with the artist's blood or hair for DNA verification, can be found in as many as 10 million American homes, according to some reports.

Kinkade embraced his mass appeal and going so far as to famously say that Picasso "had talent but didn't use it in a significant way."

Long rejected by the fine art establishment for his consumer-oriented business model and overt Christian themes, Kinkade found himself as a rather unsuspecting renegade in American Art — a figure who created bucolic scenes of lighthouses, cottages and village squares rather than the highly-conceptual, esoteric material found in most contemporary galleries and museums.

Kinkade fought off the often mean-spirited comments from what he called "the little subculture" of modern art, embracing his mass appeal and going so far as to famously say that Picasso "had talent but didn't use it in a significant way."

Patrick Kinkade, the artist's brother and an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas Christian University, revealed in an recent interview that the battle began to take its toll on the painter, who struggled with alcohol abuse throughout the past decade.

"As much as he said it didn't bother him," he told the San Jose Mercury News in April, "in his heart deep down inside it would sadden him that people would criticize so hatefully his work and his vision when people didn't understand him."

Since separating from his wife and four daughters in 2010, Kinkade became a fixture on the local bar scene of his Silicon Valley community and wracked up a high-profile DUI in Carmel, Calif.

"People just totally lose themselves in these paintings and I can't imagine demand will ever go down for his work," said Laura Hoover of Thomas Kinkade Kemah. 

In the aftermath of his death, the artist's work has been more popular than ever, according to Laura Hoover, assistant director of the Thomas Kinkade Gallery in Kemah, one of nine galleries in Texas dedicated exclusively to his art.

"There's been a rapid increase in sales here," she explained. "We've sold more paintings than we have in the gallery right now with all the orders we're making. There are a lot of collectors stopping by as well as a number of people new to his work."

Kinkade galleries across the country are expecting a steady flow of new limited-edition prints for the next two years, Hoover said, although the future of the artist's empire remains somewhat uncertain.

"People just totally lose themselves in these paintings and I can't imagine demand will ever go down for his work."

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Widely derided by the art establishment, Kinkade sought to make painting accessible to a mass audience. The artist died in April at 54 after a struggle with alcohol abuse. The Thomas Kinkade Co./Facebook