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Kinkade had a fan base that was unprecedented, and he made collectors out of the many people who brought his art into their homes.

“That’s market penetration that we’ve never seen in art, for sure,” Brown said.

Yet some of the qualities that made Kinkade’s art popular and accessible to everyday consumers also led to its criticism from art experts.

“I think the reason you probably aren’t going to find his work in many museums, if any, is that there really wasn’t anything very innovative about what he was doing…,” said Michael Darling, chief curator of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. “I really think that he didn’t bring anything new to art.”

Kinkade was also criticized for selling reproductions of his works, not the originals.

“That was something that drove the art world crazy,” Vallance said. “You were never really buying the real thing, you were buying something made by a machine.”

In the 2004 catalog to his California show, Kinkade offered an answer to his critics, saying he didn’t look down upon any type of art.

“As to the myriads of products that have been developed from my paintings, I can only state that I have always had the attitude that art in whatever format it is accessible to people is good…” he wrote. “All forms of art reproduction have meaning to some body of people.”

But Alexis Boylan, who edited a 2011 book of essays, “Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall,” said Kinkade presented his art as value-driven and contrasted it with rap music and other forms of art that he was less fond of.

“He saw his art as antagonistic towards other forms of artistic expression,” she said. “He was very antagonistic towards modern and contemporary art.”

Amid the success, though, Kinkade had run into personal difficulties in recent years.

In June 2010, he was arrested outside Carmel, Calif. on suspicion of driving under the influence. That same year, one of his companies also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy filing came as the company had started making payments on an almost $3 million court award against it in a lawsuit filed by a Virginia couple, Karen Hazlewood and Jeff Spinello.

The Virginia gallery owners sued Kinkade and his company in 2003, arguing that he’d fraudulently persuaded them to invest in a licensed Kinkade gallery, according to the Los Angeles Times. The couple alleged that they were being undercut by discount sellers whose prices they were barred from matching, and they had merchandise they couldn’t sell.

The court eventually sided with the couple. Kinkade faced similar lawsuits from other owners as a number of Kinkade galleries failed from 1997 to 2005.

Brown said he hopes people remember Kinkade not only as a commercially successful artist, but one that raised millions for charity by auctioning his works.

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