YouTube/Screenshot by NPR
A painting from the very first episode of Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” could be yours, but not for nothing.
Title A walk in the woodsthe piece is listed at $9.85 million and may be the most expensive and historically resonant Ross piece ever sold.
The work depicts a winding stone path, a cerulean pond, and a handful of luminescent trees — all elements that were painted in less than 30 minutes during the premiere of what would become the hit PBS show.
The following 31 seasons (403 episodes) of Joy of painting propelled Ross into one of the most recognizable faces in the 20th century art world, not to mention a pop culture icon known for his upbeat attitude and bleak aphorisms.
Before even picking up a paintbrush in the first episode, Ross explains what audiences can expect from the series: simple, step-by-step instructions rendered with just a few basic tools and the same paint colors from week to week.
“There’s no secret to it. Anyone can paint,” he says later, stamping the canvas to form a shape that later becomes a tree. “All you need is a dream in your heart and a little practice.”
The painting is signed “Ross” in red in the lower left corner. Whoever buys the painting will receive a written statement from its original owner – a PBS volunteer who purchased the painting at a benefit auction.
“I don’t know the exact amount she paid at that time, but knowing what others paid around the same time, I would guess it was somewhere under $100.” , explains Ryan Nelson, owner of the Modern Artifact gallery in Minneapolis.
Nelson, whose gallery has become the main facilitator of the growing Ross market, said he bought the painting from the PBS volunteer with the intention of selling it, but he is no longer sure whether ready to let him go.
“I think the best thing we can do with this is travel it. I would prefer to see this presented to the public,” he said. “But there are definitely some offers I should probably accept.”
He’s confident he’ll get his asking price, even though most of the Ross paintings he’s traded don’t even exceed the six-figure range.
Part of his confidence is that Ross has recently experienced a cultural resurgence as younger generations discover his appeal through the Internet.
That moment dates back to 2015, when the streaming service Twitch marathoned old Ross episodes and attracted some 5.6 million viewers.
Today, Bob Ross’ official YouTube page has over 5.62 million subscribers. Netflix revived Ross’ second series, 1991 Beauty is everywherein 2016, and reruns of The joy of painting still appear regularly on public television.
The increase in popularity has been accompanied by an increased interest in owning a Ross painting. But as THE New York Times According to a 2019 survey, Ross’ lack of available work is among the “internet’s biggest mysteries.”
Ross once said that he had painted more than 30,000 paintings in his lifetime, and that he probably painted 1,143 just for filming the series: an analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight calculated that he had produced paintings for 381 of the 403 episodes, and his standard process was to complete three of them. the same paintings for each exhibition; one as a model to copy, one on camera and a third after the show for use in teaching materials.
An estimated 1,165 of his coins are stored by his surviving company, Bob Ross Inc., which said The New York Times in 2019 that she has no plans to sell the works, but has since donated some to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
What happened to the rest of the work? Some Internet aficionados say Ross didn’t want his paintings available for sale because it would have detracted from the joy he got from his work. Nelson does not accept this theory.
“He sold them in malls, he gave them out at painting classes, so a lot of paints came out there,” he said. “I think unfortunately many of these paintings have not achieved the popularity that Ross has today.”
But in a way, that’s also what Ross would have wanted, Nelson said. He was not interested in giving away his art to wealthy collectors or seeking fortune alongside his fame.
The only thing that is clear is that Ross wanted everyone to learn to paint. The rest may just be a happy accident.