By Emmett Berg
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Painter Thomas Kinkade, whose works of luminescent, homespun scenes captivated millions of Americans even as some critics scoffed, died at his home in Northern California at age 54, a spokesman said.
Kinkade died alone on Friday at his residence in Los Gatos, a small town about 45 miles south of San Francisco, from what appeared to be natural causes, family spokesman David Satterfield said. No other details were immediately available.
"Thom provided a wonderful life for his family," his wife, Nanette, said in a statement. "We are shocked and saddened by his death."
Born in Placerville, California, an old gold rush town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and educated at the University of California, Berkeley, Kinkade built an unparalleled art empire, his works distributed through about 4,500 art dealers, according to a 2002 interview he gave to the San Jose Mercury News newspaper.
On television, Kinkade was a pitch man for his art through the home shopping network QVC.
Kinkade claimed to be America's most collected living artist, his prints hanging on the walls of an estimated 10 million Americans. A Christian who often depicted scenes from the Bible, Kinkade was known to dress as Santa Claus each Christmas and ride around Los Gatos on a motorcycle to deliver gifts, according to the Mercury News.
But the aspects of his works that won Kinkade legions of fans - the small-town scenes and keep-the-home-fires burning radiance from every lamp - were seen by some critics as tacky, or worse.
Essayist Joan Didion lambasted Kinkade's works for their "insistent coziness," which she found "sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire."
Kinkade, who trademarked the moniker "Painter of Light," called himself a "warrior for light" in the Mercury News interview. "With whatever talent and resources I have, I'm trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel."
(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Philip Barbara)