Bob Ross art from ‘The Joy of Painting’, Episode 1 is for sale for $10 million: NPR | Brasarr

Bob Ross art from 'The Joy of Painting', Episode 1 is for sale for $10 million: NPR

A screenshot from the premiere of The joy of painting shows painter Bob Ross with the work, A Walk in the Woods, which is for sale.

YouTube/screenshot by NPR

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YouTube/screenshot by NPR

A screenshot from the premiere of The joy of painting shows painter Bob Ross with the work, A Walk in the Woods, which is for sale.

YouTube/screenshot by NPR

A painting from the very first episode of Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting” could be yours, but not for cheap.

With the title A walk in the forestthe piece is listed at $9.85 million and may be the most expensive and historically resonant Ross piece ever sold.

The work depicts a meandering 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 zany aphorisms.

Before even picking up a paintbrush in episode one, Ross lays out what audiences can expect from the show: simple step-by-step instructions rendered with a few basic tools and the same paint colors from week to week.

“There’s no secret to this. Anyone can paint,” he says later, dabbing on the canvas in a shape that will later make it into a tree. “All you need is a dream in your heart and a little practice.”

Episode 1, of the PBS show, “The Joy of Painting”

Bob Ross

The painting is signed “Ross” in red in the lower left corner. Whoever purchases the painting will receive a written statement from its original owner – a PBS volunteer who bought the painting at a benefit auction.

“I don’t know the exact number she paid at the time, but knowing what others were paying around the same time period, I would guess it was somewhere under $100,” says Ryan Nelson, the owner of Modern Artifact Gallery in Minneapolis.

Nelson, whose gallery has become the primary facilitator of the growing Ross market, said he bought the painting from the PBS volunteer with the intention of selling it, but now he’s not so sure he’s ready to let it go.

“I think the best thing we can do with it is raise it. I’d rather we get this in front of the public,” he said. “But there are certainly offers that I should probably take.”

He’s confident he’ll get his asking price, even though most of the Ross paintings he’s traded for don’t even break the six-figure range.

Part of his confidence is that Ross has recently enjoyed a cultural resurgence as younger generations discover his appeal through the Internet.

That moment could be traced back to 2015, when the streaming service Twitch marathoned old Ross episodes and attracted about 5.6 million viewers.

Today is official Bob Ross YouTube page boasting over 5.62 million subscribers. Netflix relaunched Ross’ second series, The 1991s Beauty is everywherein 2016, and rebroadcasts of The joy of painting still appears regularly on public television.

The rise in popularity has come with increased interest in owning a Ross painting. But as That New York Times put it in a 2019 studyis the lack of available Ross work among “the internet’s greatest mysteries.”

Ross once said he painted over 30,000 paintings in his lifetime, and he probably painted 1,143 for the filming of the show alone: An analysis from the website FiveThirtyEight calculated that he produced paintings for 381 of the 403 episodes, and his standard process was to do three of the same paintings for each show; one as a template to copy, one on camera and a third after the show for use in teaching material.

An estimated 1,165 of his pieces are held by his surviving company, Bob Ross Inc., which said New York Times in 2019 that it has no intention of selling the works, but has since parted with a few to the Smithsonian’s National Museum Of American History.

What happened to the rest of the work? Some Internet lovers say Ross didn’t want his paintings available for sale because it would have detracted from the joy he had in his work. Nelson doesn’t buy that theory.

“He sold them in malls, he gave them away to painting classes, and so there’s a lot of paintings that went out there,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think many of these paintings did not reach the popularity that Ross is today.”

But in a way, that’s also how Ross would have wanted it, Nelson said. He wasn’t interested in giving his art to wealthy collector types or seeking happiness alongside his fame.

The one thing that is clear is that Ross wanted everyone to learn to paint. The rest may have been a happy accident.

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