Mr. Kinkade found huge success in the late 1990s by marketing his works through television infomercials and establishing a nationwide chain of galleries that sold his prints in limited editions.
He called himself “the nation’s most collected living artist” and claimed that his work could be found in at least one out of every 20 homes in the United States. He expanded his enterprise to include countless other products, from mugs and watches to calendars, greeting cards, puzzles, commemorative plates, fabrics, furniture, wallpaper, themed housing developments and even an autobiographical feature film, with Peter O’Toole playing his art teacher.
With his varied artistic and business interests, Mr. Kinkade was something of a combination of Norman Rockwell, Walt Disney and household gadget huckster Ron Popeil. A millionaire many times over, he was the only artist to have a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
His paintings of cottages, gardens and landscapes that seemed to glow from within struck a “vein of pure gold in America’s heartland,” in the words of “60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer.
Mr. Kinkade was so adept at recreating the effects of light in his artwork that he trademarked the phrase “painter of light.” Receptionists at his company answered the telephone by saying, “Thank you for sharing the light.”
He was revered by legions of fans, who often said they had profound experiences while viewing Mr. Kinkade’s idealized paintings of snow-covered cottages, quaint villages or pastoral scenes at sunset. He often said he wanted his work to be inspirational and sometimes included overtly Christian themes and symbols in his paintings.
“My paintings provide hope to people in despair, provide a reminder of the beauty of God’s creation despite the darkness surrounding our lives,” he told the New York Times in 1999.
Despite the devoted following that numbered in the millions, Mr. Kinkade was not taken seriously by most critics.
“He has a vocabulary, as most painters do,” San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker once wrote. “It’s a vocabulary of formulas, unfortunately.”
Mr. Kinkade’s artworks were reproduced by the thousands, many with market-proven themes. No fewer than seven of his paintings had “cottage” in the title, and others featured storms, bridges and “hometown” scenes.
His “earliest hero,” he said, was Rockwell, who painted winsome scenes of Americana for the Saturday Evening Post and who has slowly gained critical acceptance since his death in 1978. Mr. Kinkade, however, focused almost exclusively on landscapes and houses, seldom painting the human figure.
“A Kinkade painting,” cultural critic Joan Didion wrote in “Where I Was From,” her 2003 book, “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.”