Thomas Kinkade’s paintings of bucolic landscapes and light-filled cottages have been scooped up by collectors nationwide ever since the artist’s death at 54 on Friday. Kinkade galleries across the country report a surge in sales of originals and limited-edition reproductions as fans mourn the “Painter of Light’s” death.
But if you’re among the ranks of would-be Kinkade collectors looking for a piece of his art, there are a few things you should know about the market for his works.
1. Know the difference between originals and reproductions. Kinkade painted original works, but many of the paintings you see in galleries and his online stores are factory-made reproductions that the artist has never touched. Though other artists have employed similar practices — Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, for example — Kinkade was the subject of criticism for the prices he could command for these duplicate works. According to the Religion News Service, the Kinkade factory would produce more than 500 works a day.
Some of the reproductions get a touch-up from a “Master highlighter,” an artist who enhances the light by hand. Though these highlights were done “under the supervision of the artist,” they were not done by Kinkade himself.
Original Kinkade works sell in the tens to hundreds of thousands, but they’re rare. Even though they can also command prices in the thousands, most Kinkade works you encounter are reproductions.
2. Know the terminology of editions. When you’re buying Kinkade reproductions, there are several types of editions with corresponding values and rarity. The Thomas Kinkade Hometown Gallery has a rundown of some of the editions you might expect to find. In order of rarity:
• Standard numbered, artist proof, publisher proof and examination proof: All are manufactured, and enhanced by a master highlighter.
• 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, gallery proofs “tend to be the most collectible.”
• 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.
3. Don’t expect to profit off his work. Art can be an investment, but investing in works from Thomas Kinkade is not known to pay off. Because there are so many Thomas Kinkade works and reproductions on the market, and because Kinkade never received the critical acclaim and institutional acceptance from the art world that drives prices up, those looking to resell their paintings aren’t likely to get more than they paid for (However, if you were a very early Kinkade collector, you can cash out: The L.A. Times reports that his earliest works sold for $35).
There has been a slight increase in some original Kinkade painting prices since his death — one consignor marked up an original by $40,000 — but it’s not expected to carry over to the prints. The Street put Kinkade works on its list of “Completely Worthless Collectibles.”
"He has gorgeous stuff, but they QVCed it to death," said Lou Kahn, head of the Bakerstown Collectibles appraisal service, to The Street. "They sell beautiful Kinkade prints in galleries and on cruise ships, but the frames are worth more than the prints."
You should buy a Kinkade if you love the image on the canvas — but not because you hope to turn it around for a higher price.
“The idea that these reproductions, gobbed with points of light, are a good investment isn’t any different than the idea that flipping gated, golf-coursed mansions is the way to get rich," wrote essayist A.S. Hamrah in literary magazine “The Baffler.” "Kinkade is a living testament to how the triumph of kitsch values has repercussions in the marketplace, outside the world of taste.”