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'Painter of Light' artist Thomas Kinkade dies at age 54

Popular painter Thomas Kinkade died from natural causes Friday in his California home, his family said. NBC's Michelle Franzen reports.

One of the most popular artists in America, "Painter of Light" Thomas Kinkade, died Friday at his home in Los Gatos, Calif., his family said.

He was 54, and his family issued a statement that his death appeared to be from natural causes.

"Thom provided a wonderful life for his family,'' his wife, Nanette, said in a statement. "We are shocked and saddened by his death.''

His paintings are hanging in an estimated one out of every 20 homes in the United States, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Fans cite the warm, familiar feeling of mass-produced works of art while it has become fashionable for art critics to dismiss his pieces.

Kinkade lived with his wife and was the father of four girls, NBCBayArea.com reported.

"Thomas Kinkade, the celebrated 'Painter of Light' is one of the most widely collected and beloved artists of our day," Kinkade's website states. "Each year millions of people are drawn to the luminous light and tranquil mood of Kinkade's paintings and include his creations in their lives through prints, books, and other fine collectibles."

The University of California Berkeley graduate had a strong faith in God, which served as the foundation for his artwork.

"I try to create paintings that are a window for the imagination," Kinkade said on his website. "If people look at my work and are reminded of the way things once were or perhaps the way they could be, then I've done my job."

Kinkade's Media Arts Group took in $32 million per quarter from 4,500 dealers across the country 10 years ago, before going private in the middle of last decade, the Mercury News reported. Paintings are priced hundreds of dollars to more than $10,000.

His website also offers prints, mugs, nightlights and other home-decor items adorned with his paintings, which feature bridges, churches, cottages, Disney scenes, gazebos estates and the outdoors.

On Friday, the Mercury News reported that Kinkade's family was traveling to Australia and unavailable for further comment.

Bennett Raglin / WireImage

Artist Thomas Kinkade paints the 2007 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Nov. 30, 2007, in New York City.

In 2010, his production arm, Pacific Metro of Morgan Hill, Calif., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a day after a $1 million payment was due to former Kinkade gallery owners who won a judgment after claiming Kinkade used his Christian faith as a tool to fraudulently induce them to invest in his galleries, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. From 1997 through May 2005, as galleries failed, Kinkade reaped more than $50 million from his prints and licensed product lines, according to testimony in the case cited by the Times.

In 2006, the Times reported that former Kinkade dealers told the newspaper that the FBI was looking into allegations that Kinkade and his top executives fraudulently induced investors to open galleries and then ruined them financially. The company, in a Sept. 1, 2006, statement called the allegations a "smear campaign."

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