Bob Ross’s First On-Air Painting Could Fetch Nearly $10M

Wake up, happy little tree-huggers! Bob Ross’s first on-air landscape from the beloved The Joy of Painting television series is up for auction in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with an estimated valuation of $9.85M through the Modern Artifact Gallery. “A Walk in the Woods” (1983), a wet-on-wet oil painting of trees surrounding rain puddles from the first episode of the series, marked the beginning of the show’s 11-year run on PBS, underscoring Ross’s motto that anyone can paint.

The permed painter, who died in 1995, continues to hold the title as one of the world’s favorite art instructors not just for his quick and approachable teaching guides for lush landscape art, but also for his gentle and encouraging demeanor that emphasized the enjoyment of art-making over the final result.

Born and raised in Florida, Ross joined the military at 18 after a brief stint with carpentry was cut short and was transferred to a base just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1963. Ross cited exposure to the Alaskan wilderness as well as access to painting classes through the United Service Organization club as the fire-starter of his art practice, and spoke about painting as an escape from the military prior to his retirement in 1981, when he was able to dedicate his life to teaching others to paint.

Based in Minneapolis, Modern Artifact only recently acquired “A Walk in the Woods” before putting out feelers on the market. The gallery, which has acquired, authenticated, and sold rare works by Bob Ross before, is “in no hurry to sell the painting,” a spokesperson confirmed, but it’s accepting offers with no slated end date for the sale.

The Joy of Painting, which ran on PBS from 1983 to 1994, was made up of 403 30-minute episodes full of Ross’s quintessential optimism and love of nature infused into accessible lessons for deceptively achievable alla prima oil paintings. One of Ross’s most-quoted mantras was that there were no mistakes but “only happy accidents,” assuaging people’s anxieties about messing up or not positioning things correctly. Ross’s soft but motivational TV mannerisms were also bolstered by appearances from his rescued pocket squirrels, Bobette, Peapod, and Peapod Jr., among other woodland friends.

“Bob Ross has surpassed Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso as the internet’s most searched for artist according to data from Google Analytics,” Modern Artifact owner Ryan Nelson said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “It’s an incredibly impressive feat, especially considering that there is virtually no official marketing and his original paintings are nearly impossible to find.”

Bob Ross 1
Bob Ross was known to sign off on his paintings in separated letters with red paint only.

Ross regained popularity in the age of the internet in 2015 after the streaming site Twitch hosted an eight-day marathon screening the entirety of The Joy of Painting to millions of viewers, and the entire series became available on YouTube. Many found comfort and inspiration in Ross’s instruction and personality during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

While Ross made approximately 1,000 paintings for his television series, that figure was merely a drop in the bucket across his entire practice which spans over 30,000 pieces of art. It’s remarkably difficult to come by an original Bob Ross painting on the market, though, as the New York Times reported that a large portion of them are squirreled away at the Bob Ross Inc. headquarters in Virginia, and Ross donated a good chunk of the rest to the Smithsonian Institution and PBS. The woman who handed over “A Walk in the Woods” to Modern Artifact actually won the painting during a PBS auction in 1983.

“It’s a truly irreplicable, one-of-a-kind painting,” Nelson remarked. “While the gallery is accepting offers to purchase ‘A Walk in the Woods,’ they would prefer to share it with a museum or traveling exhibit to allow as many people as possible to view such an exciting work of art.”

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