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”.