Thomas Kinkade, the painter whose light-filled cottages surrounded by flowers defined an American idyll, had a life of riches and adoration - yet also faced skepticism and contempt. He was a pioneer in mass-producing, promoting, and distributing artwork, bringing him vast wealth. But his openly sentimental images, which evoked Christian themes of home and hearth, and of an American landscape blessed by eternal light, were often derided as manipulative and pandering.
Kinkade, who died Saturday at 54, didn’t defend his paintings by standard art-world measures. He saw them as sources of inspiration, offering ideals to live by. Selling a sensibility as much as an aesthetic, he put his stamp on the look and feel of American homes. Extending his brand, he designed furniture, and even entire gated communities.
In the end, art and style are defined by personal preference. And just as some major retailers cater to urbanites who prefer a sleek, modern look, Kinkade identified and tapped into a broad middle-American desire for comfort and reassuring images. In doing so, he brought a lot of joy to a lot of people - an epitaph that many other painters might envy.