Thomas Kinkade -- loved by many, loathed by art critics
Thomas Kinkade, who died unexpectedly on Friday at age 54, was an artist whose paintings of idyllic landscapes and biblically themed scenes garnered a huge popular following. But there was one pack who had nothing but disdain for Kinkade and who seemed to take pleasure in belittling the man and his success -- the critical establishment.
Whether lambasting his paintings or his mass-market business technique, critics reserved a special contempt for Kinkade. Times art critic Christopher Knight has described his paintings as "schlocky" while the San Francisco Chronicle's Kenneth Baker wrote that Kinkade "has a vocabulary, as most painters do... It's a vocabulary of formulas, unfortunately."
Joan Didion once wrote that a typical Kinkade painting "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."
Kinkade was a politically conservative Christian. Those traits are scarce among cultural critics. The artist's boastful demeanor -- he claimed to be the most collected living artist -- did not enhance his reputation in the eyes of the critics around the country.
Jeffrey Vallance, the artist who organized the exhibition, was in the critical minority when he told The Times that he had respect for Kinkade: "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."
Kinkade's reputation took a serious hit in 2006 when The Times ran a story in which the artist was accused of ruthless business tactics and obscene personal conduct.
An autopsy is expected to be performed on Kinkade's body to determine the cause of death.
-- David Ng
Photo: Thomas Kinkade, with his painting "Prayer for Peace," in 2006. Credit: Gene Blythe / Associated Press