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OTRC: Thomas Kinkade, America's most-collected artist, dies at age 54

Thomas Kinkade, a painter whose brushwork paintings of idyllic landscapes, cottages and churches have been big sellers for dealers across the United States, died on Friday, April 6, 2012 at home in Los Gatos, Calif., a family spokesman told the Associated Press. He was 54. Kinkade claimed to be the nation's most-collected living artists, earning an estimated $100 million a year for his mostly religious landscapes. The self-described devout Christian refered to himself as the 'painter of light' and compared himself to Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell. His work was largely criticized by the art establishment. His paintings, which are sometimes visual depictions of bible verses, ranged in price from hundreds of dollars to over $10,000. In 1982, Kinkade married his childhood sweetheart Nanette, who he often paid tribute to by hiding her name and those of their four daughters within his paintings. There is no word on Kinkade's cause of death. (Pictured: Artist Thomas Kinkade unveils his painting, 'Prayer For Peace,' at the opening of the exhibit 'From Abraham to Jesus,' on Sept. 15, 2006 in Atlanta.) (Gene Blythe)

Thomas Kinkade, an artist who claimed to be America's most-collected living artist, died at age 54 of apparent natural causes.

Kinkade, a painter whose brushwork paintings of idyllic landscapes, cottages and churches have been big sellers for dealers across the United States, died on Friday, April 6, 2012 at home in Los Gatos, Calif., a family spokesman told the Associated Press.

According to the wire service, Kinkade's mass-produced, mostly religious landscapes and spin-off products earned an estimated $100 million a year and could be found in 10 million homes in the United States. The self-described devout Christian referred to himself as the "painter of light" and compared himself to Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell.

"I share something in common with Norman Rockwell and, for that matter, with Walt Disney, in that I really like to make people happy," he once said.

His work was largely criticized by the art establishment for its kitsch factor and the fact that he commercialized art. His canvases were often mass-produced high-quality prints, to which a "skilled craftsmen" or Kinkade himself would sometimes add small details to add the illusion of light and depth.

"My mission as an artist is to capture those special moments in life adorned with beauty and light," Kinkaid said in a statement on his website. "I work to create images that project a serene simplicity that can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. That's what I mean by sharing the light."

His paintings, which are sometimes visual depictions of bible verses, ranged in price from hundreds of dollars to over $10,000. When he started out, he and his wife Nanette sold the painting for $35 each.

"I'm a warrior for light," Kinkade told the San Jose Mercury News in 2002, referring to the medieval practice of using light to symbolize the divine. "With whatever talent and resources I have, I'm trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel."

In 1982, Kinkade married his childhood sweetheart Nanette, who he often paid tribute to by hiding her name and those of their four daughters within his paintings.

"Thom provided a wonderful life for his family," Nanette said in a statement. "We are shocked and saddened by his death."

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