Thomas Kinkade's Art Market Catches Fire as Grieving Fans and Opportunists Capitalize on His Death

Artist Thomas Kinkade
(Thomas Kinkade Company)

After painter Thomas Kinkade died suddenly on Friday, sales of the artist-businessman's works have surged — surely in no small part because (as our own Ben Davis wrote) they "made Warholian aesthetics palatable to an evangelical set that generally thinks contemporary art is a Commie plot." Now, even Kinkade's most serialized signed works are fetching quasi-Warholian prices.

“Phones are just ringing nonstop. We have five lines and they’re constantly lit up. People are waiting in line to buy paintings,” Nathan Ross, who runs a Kinkade franchise gallery in the late artist's California hometown of Placerville, told the Associated Press. “It’s just been a real juggling match to make sure everyone gets taken care of.”

Prices have shot up accordingly. "Sunday Outing," a large Kinkade original that Ross had been trying to sell on consignment for years at the seemingly high price of $110,000, sold just hours after its owner called following the artist's death and asked the gallerist to raise the price to $150,000. On a typical day, Ross's gallery sells between one and five Kinkade pieces on its Web site, but between Saturday and Monday he received over 300 online orders. Another Kinkade franchise owner, John Vassallo, also told the AP that sales were surging, adding that any work with his signature now fetches a minimum of between $8,000 and $15,000.

So, should art investors hop on the Thomas Kinkade bandwagon? The Washington Post's style blog cautions eager would-be collectors: "Art can be an investment, but investing in works from Thomas Kinkade is not known to pay off." And indeed, back in 2010 Lou Kahn, head of the appraisal and consignment company Bakerstowne Collectibles, offered the following, withering assessment to The Street: "They sell beautiful Kinkade prints in galleries and on cruise ships, but the frames are worth more than the prints."

For the moment, however, it is indesputable that the death of the "Painter of Light" has dramatically increased the number and value of sales since his death. “It’s been a tragic cost unfortunately,” Vassallo told the AP, “but I know that Thom is looking down and bringing the people.”

Click here to see a slide show of Thomas Kinkade's paintings.