The Thomas Kinkade You Didn’t Know

On Friday Thomas Kinkade, self-proclaimed “Painter of Light,” died suddenly at his home in California. He was 54

As his website proclaims, Kinkade was “America’s most collected living artist.” He sold over ten million works and his art or licensed product (which includes wallpaper, tableware, stationary, and La-Z-Boy chairs and sofas) is estimated to be in one in ten homes in the United States. He even “inspired” a novel (Cape Light), a TV-movie (“Home for Christmas”), and planned communities (“The Gates of Coeur d’Alene” in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and “The Village at Hiddenbrooke” outside of San Francisco, and others).

But there is another Kinkade—the young struggling painter—that is largely unknown to both his admirers and his critics. Despite his extraordinary commercial success, Kinkade’s earlier work is largely unknown to audiences familiar with his later mass market works (typified by his trademark “cottage” scenes).

The differences in styles between Kinkade’s early and later works are sharp and distinctive. Consider these two paintings which portray the Water Tower in Chicago. The work on the left was created by Kinkade in 1998, but is reflective of his pre-1990s era collections. The one on the right was from 2004 and is similar to the style that brought him fame and fortune.

The following are more examples of works created by Kinkade between the ages of 27 and 31:

San Francisco, 1909 (1985)

Dawson (1985)

New York, Central Park South at 6th Avenue (1986)

San Francisco, Late Afternoon at Union Square (1989)

From 1984 to 1990, Kinkade also painted more impressionistic works under the brush name “Robert Girrard.” Here are a few examples of his work as Girrard:

September Song

Paris Twilight

Picadilly Circus

For a more critical examination of Kinkade’s work, see my article, “Thomas Kinkade’s Cottage Fantasy“.

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  • Melody

    I clicked on the link that was provided on this site to CNN. If the loss of a life not that old that tried to reproduce the beauty in God’s world wasn’t bad enough. The comments on the article will leave you feeling absolutely sick.

  • AStev

    As an artist myself, I honestly do not see why so many other artists get so hot and bothered by some other artist’s “shlock”. The way some of them act is as if they have been personally assaulted and left for dead in an alleyway.

    Plus, I suspect a lot of people have a Kinkade problem for the same reason they have a Tim Tebow problem… namely, because they have a Jesus problem.

    Father God, glorify yourself in our weaknesses. Make masterpieces from our schlock, be glorified in our paltry imperfect offerings, fill in our failures with your faithfulness.

  • Ken B.

    This blog post ( ) has some other pieces by Kinkade from his work on painting movie backgrounds.

  • Reg Schofield

    Kinkade tapped into something that people wanted and loved. Perhaps it was safe and not “edgy” but so what . It made people feel safe and good. Is that such a horrible thing. Plus many of his harshest critics , and I have read a few , I believe they were jealous of his success. I personally prefer darker , more realistic paintings but I still can understand why he became so well liked by the masses .

  • Ken

    I don’t understand what dishonoring a man after he has died has to do with the Gospel Coalition? This sounds like the same hateful stuff the LA Times put out. I expect better from you.

    • C. M. Sheffield


      I think you are out of line. What do you find “dishonoring” about this post? I have never been a fan of Kinkade’s work simply because I found it overly sentimental and cheesy. I happen to like these earlier paintings very much! I think the’re great and It’s unfortunate that popular culture doesn’t genrally appreciate these works of art. I’m greatful TGC posted this.

  • Joe Carter (@Realrawr)

    Thanks for sharing those… I really LOVE his earlier stuff. : ) (from another Joe Carter)

  • Melody

    It’s sad that the reports are that he died of alcoholism because he couldn’t take the criticism. I don’t know why we think we have to point out every time we don’t like something that someone else created or wrote. It’s just sad how we are…..and what we end up doing to each other.

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