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Prices rise with demand; firm hints of unreleased work
PLACERVILLE, Calif. — In Thomas Kinkade's hometown, at the gallery where his art career first took off, an original painting by the self-described "Painter of Light" sat unsold for years. Buyers were perhaps deterred by the $110,000 asking price.
The painting, "Sunday Outing," was being sold on consignment, and when word came Friday night that Kinkade had died, its owner called and asked for the selling price to be raised to $150,000, gallerist Nathan Ross said Monday. The painting sold hours later.
It wasn't the only one. Barraged with orders from customers in person, on the phone and online, Mr. Ross has called in as much extra help as he can find. He said on a typical day he'll sell one to five Kinkade pieces through the gallery's website.
In 48 hours, he said, he received about 300 online orders.
"Phones are just ringing nonstop. We have five lines, and they're constantly lit up. People are waiting in line to buy paintings," Mr. Ross said. "It's just been a real juggling match to make sure everyone gets taken care of."
Other galleries across the country that specialize in Kinkade's work are reporting a similar surge in sales following the popular painter's death at age 54.
John Vassallo, who owns five Kinkade galleries in New York and New Jersey, said sales on Saturday reached half his typical sales for the entire month of December, the busiest month of the year. Like most Kinkade retailers, Mr. Vassallo traffics not in originals but in limited-edition reproductions, many of which are hand-signed by the artist.
Any piece with Kinkade's original signature is in high demand at a cost of $8,000 to $15,000, said Mr. Vassallo, who counted Kinkade as a personal friend.
"It's been a tragic cost, unfortunately," Mr. Vassallo said of Kinkade's death, "but I know that Thom is looking down and bringing the people."
Mr. Vassallo also said he thought Kinkade likely left behind unreleased work that would help feed public demand even after the painter's death. The Morgan Hill, Calif., company that produces and distributes Kinkade's art hinted in a weekend message to gallery owners and employees that such work did indeed exist.
"He leaves behind a rich legacy of published and unpublished work and has inspired generations of artists to follow in his brushstrokes," Thomas Kinkade Co. CEO John Hasting wrote in the statement. Mr. Hasting said later that the company was heartened by the outpouring of appreciation of Kinkade's work. The company hasn't offered any specifics on how much sales have increased.
Though no one knows how long it will last, the renewed interest in Kinkade would seem to represent something of a reversal of fortune.
In 2010, one of Kinkade's companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after many years of huge commercial success. The bankruptcy filing came as the company had started making payments on an almost $3 million court award to two disgruntled former gallerists.
Kinkade died Friday at his home in Los Gatos, Calif., of what his family said was apparent natural causes. An autopsy was performed Monday, but results are not yet available pending further tests, the Santa Clara County medical examiner's office said.
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