When the newly renovated Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., was reopened in 2010, the single most dramatic work of art inside was a 15-by-31-foot mural called “The Cross,” painted by Thomas Kinkade. In a video explaining the work, Kinkade speaks of the commission (by Franklin Graham) as “a moment of divine inspiration” and says that the painting offers viewers “a glimpse of a heavenly realm.”

Humble as the Graham Library may be in comparison, it’s hard not to see in this epic painting and its creator a faint echo of the Sistine Chapel and its own heroic muralist.

When it was reported that Kinkade had died on Good Friday this year, at age 54, after a night of heavy drinking, no one was more shocked than his legion of Christian admirers who consider his paintings beacons of serenity and faith.

The artist’s death brought to a tragic end a life that seemed equal parts Norman Rockwell and Citizen Kane. In so many ways, it is a quintessentially American story: the triumph of a rags-to-riches rebel who challenges the establishment (in this case the art world), touching the hearts of millions and achieving success with paintings that celebrate God, country and family values.

Continue Reading on online.wsj.com