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Illuminating Possible Values of ‘Painter of Light’ Thomas Kinkade’s Works

by Rebekah Kaufman (08/28/12).

This original oil painting by Thomas Kinkade, “The Glacial Basin” (1988), is an example of a Kinkade that has value. It sold on eBay for $49,995 in February of this year.

It’s time to shine a light on “Painter of Light,” Thomas Kinkade, who died earlier this year at the age of 54. Love him or hate him, he is perhaps America’s most successful commercial artist. Reactions to his artwork and talent span the spectrum, from adoration from collectors and fans to scorn and rejection from the professional artistic communities. So just what makes his works so popular—and divisive—at the same time?

He certainly wasn’t a starving artist. Kinkade’s empire—according to the Associated Press—included “franchised galleries, reproduced artwork and spin-off products said to fetch at their peak some $100 million annually and [to] adorn roughly 10 million homes.”

A California native and professionally trained artist, Kinkade started selling his art in the early 1980s and became a household name in the 1990s. At his peak in popularity, in the early to mid- 2000s, his work seemed to be everywhere. It has been estimated that one in 20 Americans have a piece of Kinkade artwork in their homes and one of his paintings has appeared in the White House—Kinkade presented his original “The Lights of Liberty” to President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton during an official White House ceremony in 2000.

There’s certainly no controversy when it comes to the “look and feel” of typical Kinkade paintings. Most feature idealized, “no place like home” or all-American, patriotic settings, interpreted with deeply saturated pastel colors with glowing highlights. Typical themes include houses and cottages in pastoral, often snowy settings; gentle streams and falling water; bucolic villages and main streets; and illuminated churches and lighthouses. He also painted nostalgic views of cities, including New York, San Francisco and Paris. As time went on, Kinkade started adding people in his paintings, something he traditionally purposely avoided; perhaps originally to give the works a more spiritual and otherworldly feeling.

As his work became more and more well-known in the early 2000s, Kinkade expanded the range of his subjects and locations. His works became more commercial, often with tie-ins to major brands or events. Kinkade was invited to paint the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in honor of at Disneyland’s 50th anniversary in 2005. Continuing his relationship with Disney, he then painted Cinderella’s Castle for the 35th Anniversary of Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla., in 2007. These projects were so successful that the painter and the entertainment company agreed upon “The Disney Dreams Collection,” a series of what was to be 12 paintings highlighting beloved scenes from classic animated Disney movies, as interpreted by Kinkade.

“Christmas Cottage I” by Thomas Kinkade

“Evening Sleigh Ride” by Thomas Kinkade.

Kinkade was also very involved with the sports world, especially Major League Baseball and NASCAR. He was selected to be one of two official artists commissioned to commemorate the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Over the past decade or so, Kinkade painted Angel Stadium (home of the Los Angeles Angels), AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giants), Yankee Stadium (home of the New York Yankees) and Fenway Park (home of the Boston Red Sox.) He commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500 with his painting “NASCAR Thunder” and was later invited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis Speedway. This collaboration resulted in his “Indy Excitement” painting, what some call one of his most dynamic works of all time. He said of this painting:

“The passion I have is to capture memories, to evoke the emotional connection we have to an experience. I came out here and stood up on the bleachers and looked around, and I saw all the elements of the track. It was empty at the time. But I saw the stadium, how the track laid out, the horizon, the skyline of Indianapolis and the Pagoda. I saw it all in my imagination. I began thinking, ‘I want to get this energy—what I call the excitement of the moment—into this painting.’ As I began working on it, I thought, ‘Well, you have this big piece of asphalt, the huge spectator stands; I’ve got to do something to get some movement.’ So I just started throwing flags into it. It gives it kind of a patriotic excitement.”

Thomas Kinkade working at the Indianapolis Speedway.

Kinkade’s version of the Indianapolis 500.

To keep up with the public’s interest in his work, Kinkade dramatically increased his distribution channels as well as his product line and production methods. He sold through mail order, as well as opening up a network of 350 franchised Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries. He began relationships with mass merchandisers, including the television retailer QVC, Hallmark, The Bradford Exchange and Wal-Mart. And, in addition to his paintings and prints, he started producing a large line of Christmas décor, including Christmas trees, ornaments, figurines, garlands, centerpieces and nativity sets, spiritual jewelry—including rings and pendants themed with crosses, flowers, and lighthouses—and religious gifts, including music boxes, memorial candleholders and prayer-themed art.

Worthologist and collectibles expert Harry Rinker sums up his thoughts about Kinkade’s work like this: “Before I conduct an appraisal clinic,” he says, “I say a silent prayer asking God to please not make me deal with a variety of items. Cruise ship art and Thomas Kinkade products are on the list.”

A Kinkade Father Christmas Christmas ornament.

A Kinkade snowman Christmas decoration.

A piece of Kinkade-designed jewelry.

In order to maximize the visibility, reach, and scope of his paintings and prints—as well as keep up with worldwide demand—Kinkade had several tiers of production and authenticity. It has been reported that at its peak, the Kinkade factory would produce more than 500 works a day. As such, it is important to understand the differences between the tiers, as each represents a distinctive level of collectivity and value. Of course, Kinkade did paint original works; these are extremely rare and have sold recently in the tens of thousands of dollars each.

The vast majority of Kinkade editions on the market today are considered reproductions and were mass-produced in a factory, far away from any real artisans. According the Thomas Kinkade Hometown Gallery, a Kinkade retailer located in Kinkade’s hometown of Placerville, Calif., there are three levels of commercially available pieces. In order of rarity and value, these include:

  • Lowest Level — “Standard numbered, artist proof, publisher proof and examination proof: All are manufactured and enhanced by a master highlighter.”
  • Mid Level — “Gallery proofs and international proofs: Manufactured and highlighted the same as the editions above, but they include a “dime-size gold foil embossed remarque above Thomas Kinkade’s painted signature.” According to the gallery, these mid-level editions “tend to be the most collectible.”
  • Top Level — “Renaissance edition and studio proofs: They are manufactured just like all of the editions above, but also have more highlighting and a texture that matches Kinkade’s actual brush strokes. These reproductions are the closest to the originals.”

Kinkade was invited to paint the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in honor of at Disneyland’s 50th anniversary in 2005.

Although Kinkade has never been recognized by intellectual, academic and fine art circles—they critique his work as over-commercialized, lacking in substance and pandering to popular tastes—he has been widely celebrated by other organizations and institutions. These accolades include both his artistic and philanthropic contributions. He won multiple National Association of Limited Edition Dealers (NALED) awards for Artist of the Year and Graphic Artist of the Year, and his art was named Lithograph of the Year nine times. Kinkade was also inducted into the California Tourism Hall of Fame for his work on the public’s positive perceptions of California travel based on his paintings.

In 2002, he received the World Children’s Center Humanitarian Award for his contributions to improving the welfare of children and their families through his work with Kolorful Kids and Art for Children, programs designed to engage families in creative projects together. He was also chosen as a national spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2003; in 2005 he received the Eugene Freedman Humanitarian Award from NALED, an award was named after the founder of the Enesco Corporation—the worldwide distributor for Precious Moments porcelain figurines—who was extremely generous with his time and money. Kinkade was also associated with The Points of Light Foundation, World Vision, Art for Children Charities and The Salvation Army.

Kinkade died on April 6, 2012, due to an accidental overdose of alcohol and Valium, according to the Santa Clara County, Calif., medical examiner. He was in the process of getting divorced from his wife of many years. Much has been written about how he ran his businesses and his role and influence in the art and popular culture worlds. It is safe to say that the jury is still out on the significance and importance of his contributions the long run.

“Snow White Discovers the Cottage” combines many of Kinkade’s most iconic elements: a serene wooded waterfall and stream, a cottage, Disney characters and light playing through the trees.

Kinkade’s early and unexpected death has put a further spotlight on the resale or investment values of his work. It is still too early to tell what the future holds in terms of investment potential, especially given the huge numbers of reproductions on the primary and secondary markets today. As with anything, something is worth what someone will pay for it, and much of that calculus is based on supply and demand. With that in mind, according to one online source for recent auction sales, 98 Thomas Kinkade items have sold for less than $99 (mostly limited edition reproductions and a few collectibles) in to date in 2012; 60 have sold in the $100-$499 range (mostly limited edition reproductions and a few collectibles); and six have sold in the $500-$750 range (all limited edition reproductions); one has sold at $10,000, which was an original oil painting done by the artist in 1988.

Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.

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4 Responses to “Illuminating Possible Values of ‘Painter of Light’ Thomas Kinkade’s Works”

  1. I think the best summation of Kinkade was by an online commentator:

    “Kinkaide made fantasy art for people who don’t want to see the world as complex and disorderly, who cling to religion and simplistic socio-political solutions that they think will give them a “safe” world like his cheerful (and creepily perfect) landscapes. His art doesn’t *touch* the emotions, it *manipulates* the emotions, and in that sense it should be called out and criticized for what it is.”

    • Anne Gilbert ANNE GILBERT says:

      After reading Harry Rinker’s snide remarks about Thomas Kinkade’s work I am reminded of what so-called art authorities said about Norman Rockwell’s paintings and Rockwell’s reply: “Many of those who consider themselves serious painters look down their noses at us.” He was of course referring to illustration artists. Kinkade’s work appeals to the average person, as did Rockwell’s. Rockwell had the last laugh and probaby so will Kinkade collectors.

      Anne Gilbert

      • Kurt Wilk says:

        Anne, something I have personally witnessed on many occasions is a talentless “modernist” artist scrape and grovel in an attempt to convince a gallery patron to leave with their art. Say what they want, any and I mean any, would have sacrificed any principles they had for a small share of Kincade’s financial success. The situation does produce a laugh.

  2. Majid Shirmohamadi says:

    thankyou for ever, it’s very good & nice picture.
    I live in Tehran. Iran…

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