Artists Andy Warhol and Thomas Kinkade have a few things in common.
They each created their own form of pop art that made art relatable and desirable to the person on the street…
Their work vaulted them to household-name status even as it consistently drew intense criticism…
The value — and reputation — of their art shot up and crashed down…
But that’s where the similarities end.
Warhol’s quirky wall hangings depicting Campbell’s soup cans, Hollywood icons and other interesting objects have roared back in popularity — and price — after his death.
Demand for Kinkade’s paintings fell off about seven years before he died and hasn’t come back… nor is it expected to.
Kinkade, the self-titled “Painter of Light,” started painting as a young man in his native northern California in the early 1970s. By the late ’70s, he had finished art school. And he became a born-again Christian in 1980, which influenced his work.
In 1984, he published his first print — a painting of the town of Dawson, Yukon/Alaska. In 1989, his painting Yosemite Valley, Late Afternoon Light was named the official print of the National Parks System. That’s when people began to take notice of Kinkade’s work…
He received the first in a long series of awards from the National Association of Limited Edition Dealers (NALED) in 1992 — and his popularity took off.
His oil paintings and prints were studies in light known aptly as luminism. He focused on scenes of quaint cottages, churches, villages and other peaceful settings, which became his hallmark. He made it no secret his Christian faith was part of his work. This endeared him to his audience.
By the late ’90s, Kinkade was known and celebrated everywhere. In 2000, he met President and Mrs. Clinton at the White House and had an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. In 2001, he created two pieces for a Salvation Army fundraiser to help victims of 9/11.
His work was hot and it was everywhere…
In 2002, Kinkade was inducted into the California Tourism Hall of Fame and named Official Artist of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics… In 2005, he created an official painting for Disney’s 50th anniversary… In 2008, a movie titled Christmas Cottage was made about his life…
Proprietary retail stores called Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries initially began popping up in malls in 1995. At the height of “Kinkade mania,” there were 350 Signature Galleries, plus an additional 4,500 dealers across America selling his work on everything from canvases to books to collector’s plates to puzzles.
“Actual Kinkades,” as they were called, sold from several hundred dollars to over $10,000 — and resold for even more.
Kinkade’s company, Media Arts Group, was (for a period) a publicly traded stock. They once stated that one in every 20 American homes displayed a Kinkade. The balance sheets were putting up numbers as well — the company regularly did around $100 million in annual sales.
Thomas Kinkade believed himself to be the most collected living artist in the United States.
But there was a dark side to the paintings of light. The Signature Galleries were failing. By 2005, fewer than half of the 350 were still in business.
A Virginia couple who bought two galleries that failed sued Media Arts in 2003. Three years later, an arbitration panel found in their favor, agreeing that the couple had been fraudulently misled. They were eventually awarded $2.8 million.
Media Arts went bankrupt in 2010.
After the bankruptcy filing, Kinkade’s fortunes rapidly turned. Sales of his work tanked. He and his wife of 20 years separated. He had run-ins with the law and was convicted of drunk driving. He allegedly caused several bizarre public disturbances, one at a Siegfried & Roy show in Las Vegas at which he shouted, “Codpiece! Codpiece!” and another at hotel at Disneyland where he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh statue.
Thomas Kinkade died in 2012 at the age of 54 from an accidental overdose of alcohol and Valium. The art world took almost no notice.
Today, a new company formed after the bankruptcy is still producing Kinkades, and his widow and daughters run a foundation named after him.
There are also a handful of dedicated Kinkade galleries that still sell old works as well as new pieces created by other painters trained in his style at the official studio bearing his name.
All but a few of his earliest works can be had for no more than a few thousand dollars at most.
The man who thought he was taking up where Warhol and Rockwell left off has faded into the twilight of one of his paintings.
To your wealth,
Editor-at-large, Unconventional Wealth
Steffi Baker is the editor-at-large of Unconventional Wealth. For the past 10 years, she worked with a small strategy consulting firm that dealt exclusively with wealth-management companies, helping them market themselves to ultra-high-net-worth clients.
Through this line of work, Steffi attended events in London and New York and hobnobbed with household names and international...