Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” whose collectible works were beloved by fans and bemoaned by critics, died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription tranquilizers, officials confirmed to the Associated Press. A combination of Valium and alcohol was the cause of the painter’s April 6 death, the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office said Tuesday.
Kinkade, whose bucolic scenes of cottages and Americana expanded into an empire of galleries and merchandise, called himself “the nation’s most collected living artist,” estimating that his work could be found in one out of 20 homes in the U.S. He was the only artist to ever have a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
However, the commercialization and kitsch of his work didn’t win him many fans among the art-world elite, or with critics. As the Style Blog wrote after his death, Kinkade’s legacy was deeply polarizing: For every art critic who called his art saccharine, sentimental or heavy-handed with its Christian imagery, there were a dozen fans who found beauty in his brushstrokes.
Kinkade’s death follows years of personal problems. He was arrested for a DUI in 2010. After he was forced to pay a settlement for withholding financial information from investors, he wrote a letter of apology that cited his drinking problem, according to the Religion News Service. Shortly before his death, he had separated from his wife; a judge later issued a restraining order against his girlfriend, Amy Pinto-Walsh, for breaking a confidentiality agreement after his death.
As fans mourned, interest in his artwork surged, with collectors scooping up paintings from Kinkade-branded galleries. But for those looking to acquire a Kinkade, caveat emptor: Most Kinkade works are reproductions, not originals, and they’re not likely to appreciate in value, as other art on the market might. Read about what else buyers should know here.