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Thomas Kinkade
Kinkade with a copy of his painting Heading Home presented to the USO in October 2005.
Born January 18, 1958 (1958-01-18) (age 52)
Sacramento, California
Nationality American
Field Painting

Thomas Kinkade (born January 19, 1958 in Sacramento, California) is an American painter of 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 characterizes himself as "Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light" (a trademarked phrase), and as "America's most-collected living artist".[1] Media Arts, the publicly-traded company that licenses and sells Kinkade's products, claims that 1 in 20 homes in the U.S. feature some form of Thomas Kinkade’s art. He has received criticism for the extent to which he has 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,[2] and described it as chocolate box art.[3]


Early years

Kinkade grew up in the small town of Placerville, California, graduated from high school in 1976, and attended the University of California, Berkeley and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena[4]. He married his wife Nanette in 1982 and the couple went on to have four daughters: Merritt (b. 1988), Chandler (b. 1991), Winsor (b. 1995) and Everett (b. 1997), all named for famous artists[4].

Some of the people who mentored and taught him long before college were Charles Bell and Glenn Wessels[4]. 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 nationally renowned Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

In June 1980, Kinkade spent a summer travelling across the United States with his college friend Jim 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[4], 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[4]. 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.

Artistic themes and style

A key feature of Thomas Kinkade's paintings are their glowing highlights and saturated pastel colors. Rendered in an impressionist style cross-pollinated with American Scene Painting values, his works often portray bucolic, idyllic settings such as gardens, streams, stone cottages, and Main Streets. His hometown of Placerville (where his works are omnipresent) is the setting of many of his street and snow scenes. He has also depicted various Christian themes including the Christian cross and churches.

Kinkade says he is placing emphasis on the value of simple pleasures and that his intent is to communicate inspirational, life-affirming messages through his work. A self-described "devout Christian" (all of his children have the middle name "Christian"[5]), Kinkade has said he gains his inspiration from his religious beliefs and that his work is intended to contain a larger moral dimension. He has also said that his goal as an artist is 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 has said, "I am often asked why there are no people in my paintings",[2] but in 2009 he painted a portrait of the Indianapolis Speedway for the cover of that year's Indianapolis 500 race program that included details of the diversity of the crowd, hiding among them the figures of Norman Rockwell and Dale Earnhardt. He has also painted the farewell portrait for Yankee Stadium.[6][7] About the Indianapolis Speedway painting, Kinkade said:

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.[6]

Mike McGee, director of the Grand Central Art Center at California State University Fullerton, has written of the Thomas Kinkade Heaven on Earth exhibition:

Looking just at the paintings themselves it is obvious that they are technically competent. Kinkade’s genius, however, is in his capacity to identify and fulfill the needs and desires of his target audience — he cites his mother as a key influence and archetypal audience — and to couple this with savvy marketing… If Kinkade’s art is principally about ideas, and I think it is, it could be suggested that he is a Conceptual artist. All he would have to do to solidify this position would be to make an announcement that the beliefs he has expounded are just Duchampian posturing to achieve his successes. But this will never happen. Kinkade earnestly believes in his faith in God and his personal agenda as an artist.[8]

Artist and Guggenheim Fellow Jeffrey Vallance has spoken about Kinkade's devout religious themes and their reception in the art world.

This is another area that the contemporary art world has a hard time with, that I find interesting. He expresses what he believes and puts that in his art. That is not the trend in the high-art world at the moment, the idea that you can express things spiritually and be taken seriously… It is always difficult to present serious religious ideas in an art context. That is why I like Kinkade. It is a difficult thing to do.[9]

Essayist Joan Didion is a representative critic of Kinkade's style:

A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.[10]

She goes on to compare the "Kinkade Glow" to the luminism of 19th-century painter Albert Bierstadt, who sentimentalized the infamous Donner Pass in his Donner Lake from the Summit.[11] Didion sees "unsettling similarities" between the two painters, and worries that Kinkade's own treatment of the Sierra Nevada, The Mountains Declare His Glory, similarly ignores the tragedy of the forced dispersal of Yosemite's Sierra Miwok Indians during the Gold Rush, by including an imaginary Miwok camp as what he calls "an affirmation that man has his place, even in a setting touched by God's glory."[10]


Kinkade's works are sold by mail order and in dedicated retail outlets as high-quality prints, often using texturizing techniques on real canvas to make the surface of the finished prints mimic the raised surface of the original painting. 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, puzzles, greeting cards, and CDs. By December of 2009, his images also appeared on Wal-Mart 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.[12]


Criticism of business practices

Kinkade's company, Media Arts Group Inc., has been accused of unfair dealings with owners of Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery franchises. In 2006, an arbitration board awarded Karen Hazlewood and Jeffrey Spinello $860,000 in damages and $1.2 million in fees and expenses due to Kinkade's company "[failing] to disclose material information" that would have discouraged them from investing in the gallery.[13][14] [15] The plaintiffs and other former gallery owners have also leveled accusations of being pressured to open additional galleries that were not financially viable, being forced to take on expensive, unsalable inventory, and being undercut by discount outlets whose prices they were not allowed to match.

Kinkade has denied the accusations and Media Arts Group has successfully defended itself in previous suits by other former gallery owners. Kinkade himself was not singled out in the finding of fraud by the arbitration board.[14]

In August 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI was investigating these issues, with agents from offices across the country conducting interviews.[16]

Former gallery dealers also charge that Kinkade uses Christianity as a tool to take advantage of people. "They really knew how to bait the hook," said one ex-dealer who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They certainly used the Christian hook."[17] One former dealer's lawyer stated "Most of my clients got involved with Kinkade because it was presented as a religious opportunity. Being defrauded is awful enough, but doing it in the name of God is really despicable."[18]

Related projects and partnerships

Kinkade has been selected by a number of organizations to celebrate milestones, including Disneyland's 50th Anniversary, Walt Disney World Resort's 35th Anniversary, Elvis Presley’s purchase of Graceland 50 years ago and the 25th anniversary of its opening to the public, and Yankee Stadium's farewell 85th season in 2008. Kinkade also paid tribute to "America's Most Beloved Ballpark" (a trademarked phrase), Fenway Park.[19]

Kinkade was also chosen as the artist of choice to capture the historic Asheville, North Carolina mansion, Biltmore House, on canvas and will introduce the Commemorative Portrait of the 50th Running of the Daytona in 2008.[19]

In 2001 Media Arts unveiled "The Village at Hiddenbrooke," a Thomas Kinkade-themed community of homes, built outside of Vallejo, California in partnership with the international construction firm Taylor Woodrow. Salon's Janelle Brown visited the community and found it to be "the exact opposite of the Kinkadeian ideal. Instead of quaint cottages, there's generic tract housing; instead of lush landscapes, concrete patios; instead of a cozy village, there's a bland collection of homes with nothing -- not a church, not a cafe, not even a town square -- to draw them together." [20]

Personal conduct

The Los Angeles Times has reported that some of Kinkade's former colleagues, employees, and even collectors of his work say that he has a long history of cursing and heckling other artists and performers. The Times further reported that he openly groped a woman's breasts at a South Bend, Indiana, sales event, and mentioned his proclivity for ritual territory marking through urination, once relieving himself on a Winnie the Pooh figure at a Disney site while saying "This one’s for you, Walt."[21][22] Kinkade has denied some of the allegations, and accepted and apologized for others.[22]

In 2006 John Dandois, Media Arts Group executive, recounted a story that on one occasion ("about six years ago") Kinkade became drunk at a Siegfried and Roy magic show in Las Vegas and began shouting "Codpiece! Codpiece!" at the performers. Eventually he was calmed by his mother.[21] Dandois also said of Kinkade, "Thom would be fine, he would be drinking, and then all of a sudden, you couldn't tell where the boundary was, and then he became very incoherent, and he would start cussing and doing a lot of weird stuff."[21]

Charities and affiliations

Kinkade has supported non-profit organizations focusing on children, humanitarian relief, and the arts, including the Make-a-Wish Foundation, World Vision, Art for Children Charities, and The Salvation Army. He was a member of the Church of the Nazarene.

In 2002, he partnered with The Salvation Army to create two charity prints, The Season of Giving and The Light of Freedom. Proceeds from the sale of the prints were donated to The Salvation Army for their relief efforts at Ground Zero and to aid the victims of the attacks and their families in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. More than $2 million was donated as a result of this affiliation. In 2003, Kinkade was chosen as a National Spokesman for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and during the 20 Years of Light Tour in 2004, he raised over $750,000 and granted 12 wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions.[19]

In 2005, the Points of Light Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging more people more effectively in volunteer service to help solve serious social problems, named Kinkade as Ambassador of Light. He is the second person in the Foundation’s 15-year history to be chosen as Ambassador, the first being the organization’s founder, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush.[19] During his Ambassador of Light Tour, Kinkade visited cities nationwide to raise awareness and money for the Points of Light Foundation and the Volunteer Center National Network, which serves more than 360 Points of Light member Volunteer Centers in communities across the country.

Awards and recognitions

Kinkade has received many awards for his works, including multiple National Association of Limited Edition Dealers (NALED) awards for Artist of the Year and Graphic Artist of the Year, and his art has been named Lithograph of the Year nine times.[19] It should be noted these awards are, for the most part, based on number of sales rather than any inherent artistic merit in the work itself.

In 2002, Kinkade was inducted into the California Tourism Hall of Fame as an individual who has influenced the public’s perception of tourism in California through his images of California sights. He was selected to commemorate the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games and the 2002 World Series. He was also honored with the 2002 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.[19]

In 2003, Kinkade was chosen as a national spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. And, in 2004, he was selected for a second time by the Christmas Pageant of Peace to paint the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. The painting, Symbols of Freedom, was the official image for the 2004 Pageant of Peace.[19]

In 2004, Kinkade received an award from NALED recognizing him as the Most Award Winning Artist in the Past 25 Years. Most recently in 2005, he was named the NALED Graphic Artist of the Year. He was also recognized for his philanthropic efforts by NALED with the Eugene Freedman Humanitarian Award.[19]

In popular culture

Kinkade says his art is meant to have broad appeal. In his own words:

There's been million-seller books and million-seller CDs. But there hasn't been, until now, million-seller art. We have found a way to bring to millions of people, an art that they can understand.[23]

In Heath and Potter's book The Rebel Sell, Kinkade's art is described as "so awful it must be seen to be believed."

Kinkade's art is parodied on the comedy website Something Awful.[24] [25] [26] [27], which was much less a parody as it was an effort to give explanation for the bizarre oddities in perspective and light Kinkade is praised for (i.e, cabin interiors on fire, neon patches of glowing grass with no light source, etc)

A self-produced movie about Kinkade, Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage, was released on DVD in late November 2008. The semi-autobiographical story looks at the motivation and inspiration behind his most popular painting, The Christmas Cottage. Jared Padalecki plays Kinkade and Marcia Gay Harden plays his mother. Peter O'Toole plays young Kinkade's mentor, who tells him "Paint the light, Thomas! PAINT THE LIGHT!". [28][29]


  1. ^ "About Thomas Kinkade". Retrieved 2006-03-26. 
  2. ^ a b "Writer of Dreck™". Retrieved 2006-05-08. 
  3. ^ "Kinkade, king of kitsch, coming to a home near you". The Independent. 2001-05-05. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Thomas Kinkade and Rick Barnett (2003). The Thomas Kinkade Story, A 20 Year Chronology of the Artist. Bulfinch Press. ISBN 0821228587. 
  5. ^ "Thomas Kinkade profile". Notable Names Database. Retrieved 2006-03-26. 
  6. ^ a b "Daily Trackside Report - Indianapolis 500 Race Day". May 24, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  7. ^ Reason, Betsy (May 21, 2009). "'Painter of Light' Kinkade will visit". Zionsville Star. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  8. ^ McGee, Mike. (2004). Thomas Kinkade's Trojan Horse. In: Vallance, Jeffrey (ed). Thomas Kinkade: Heaven on Earth. San Francisco: Last Gasp. ISBN 0-86719-613-0.
  9. ^ Drohojowska-Philp, Hunter. (April 4, 2004). "Painted into a corner?". Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ a b Didion, Joan (2003). Where I Was From. Westminster: Knopf. p. 73. 
  11. ^ Donner Lake from the Summit and other paintings of the Hudson River School
  12. ^ 1997 to May 2005 earnings
  13. ^ Egelko, Bob (2009-06-18). "Artist's firm on hook for $2.1 million". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  14. ^ a b Christensen, Kim (2006-02-24). "Gallery Owners Win Ruling in Kinkade Case". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-06-19. —abstract, subscription required for full article
  15. ^ McKenzie, Bryan (2006-06-19). "Ex-gallery owners win Kinkade judgment". Charlottesville Daily Progress. Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  16. ^ Christensen, Kim (2006-08-29). "Painter Said to Be Focus of FBI Probe". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2006-08-29. —abstract, subscription required for full article
  17. ^ Thomas Kinkade FBI Investigation
  18. ^ Virginia Kincade dealers prevail in arbitration
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h The Thomas Kinkade Company (2008). Thomas Kinkade: Twenty-Five Years. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 13: 978-0-7407-7703-5; 10: 0-7407-7703-3. 
  20. ^ Brown, Janelle (2002-03-18). "Ticky-tacky houses from "The Painter of Light"". Retrieved 2006-03-26. 
  21. ^ a b c Christensen, Kim (2006-03-05). "Dark Portrait of a 'Painter of Light'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  22. ^ a b Christensen, Kim (2006-03-09). "Kinkade Defends Self but Says 'Sorry'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  23. ^ 60 Minutes interview
  24. ^ Something Awful
  25. ^ Something Awfull
  26. ^ Something Awfull
  27. ^ Something Awfull
  28. ^ On DVD: Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage, Bringing Cookie-Tin Paintings To Your TV Screen,, November 19, 2008
  29. ^

See also

External links


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