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The Afterlife Market of Thomas Kinkade

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It’s hard to imagine that the colossal business empire created by Thomas Kinkade, the self-described “world’s most collected living artist,” could do any better than it already has. Kinkade shared the rare company of artists (Mr. Brainwash comes to mind) who didn’t have to wait until death to, not only to be appreciated but, make a killing on their craft.

Kinkade didn’t just create art. He created an “art-based lifestyle brand” -- produced and reproduced by his own publicly-traded company.   

But now that the “Painter of Light” has met his maker, his work is hotter than a pastel red sunset over the Northern California foothills. Once news of his death hit his hometown of Placerville, CA, the Original Thomas Kinkade Gallery that was selling his “Sunday Outing” painting on consignment for $110,000, got snatched up for a mere $40,000 over asking price.

Buyers who missed out on their chance to bid on “Sunday Outing” can still have a piece -- or rather a thousand pieces -- of the famous painting. A glow in the dark version, in puzzle form no less, is for sale on Amazon (AMZN) for $46. And if that sells out, the image will surely be printed on coffee mugs, coasters, Hallmark cards, and paint-by-numbers kits by the end of the week.

Throughout his career, Kinkade was ripped apart by the fine art community for what it regarded as the shameless mass production and commercialization of gutless shlock. A 1999 Time magazine article called “Art of Selling Kitsch” noted the distinction between Kinkade’s work and that of more sophisticated, yet far less profitable artists: “Don't look for these creations at your local museum. Instead try your local mall.” Kinkade never met a shopping venue he didn’t like, stooping so low as to play pitchman of his paintings on QVC.

The simplistic vignettes have even been seen fit to decorate the walls of hotel chains. Of Kinkade’s work, comedian Paul F. Tompkins joked, on an early episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, “Ah yes. The glorious use of light and simple country images bring to mind the question ‘When is check out time?’”

The $150,000 “Sunday Outing” sale is indicative of a sudden nationwide surge in demand for the late artist’s paintings, prints and canvas reproductions. While the Original Thomas Kinkade Gallery has received 300 online orders in the last 48 hours (compared to a typical handful daily at best), an owner of five Kinkade galleries on the East Coast reported selling half as many paintings this past Saturday than it did over the entire month of December.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.