The work that American artist Bob Ross completed on air during the first episode of his hit television programme The Joy of Painting has been put up for sale for a whopping $9.85m, a figure the gallery selling it calls a “not-for-sale number,” as they plan to take the work on tour.
Ross hosted The Joy of Painting, an instructional artmaking series that aired on American public broadcaster PBS from 1983 to 1994. Over more than 400 episodes, Ross showed viewers how he painted mostly nature and landscape scenes, and he became popular for his calm demeanor and encouraging catchphrases like, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” (He also famously liked to paint “happy little trees” and “happy little clouds”.)
While Ross produced tens of thousands of paintings before his death in 1995, his work rarely appears at auction. The vast majority of the paintings Ross made for The Joy of Painting remain stored in the offices of Bob Ross Inc., the company that controls Ross’s intellectual property, which doesn’t plan on selling the works.
But Modern Artifact, a gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota—which has sold multiple Ross paintings that have appeared on the market—recently put A Walk in the Woods (1983), from the programme’s first episode, up for sale. The painting was previously owned by a woman who volunteered at the PBS station where The Joy of Painting was filmed, according to Modern Artifact. She had won it in an auction to support the station, and she sold it to Modern Artifact last year, the gallery said. Modern Artifact has put it up for sale for a staggering $9.85m, but with the understanding that the painting may not fetch a bidder at such a high price.
“We are seeing a huge demand for his original works, which are hard to come by,” Modern Artifact’s Ryan Nelson said in a statement. “It is hard to put a value on the piece given the movement, the popularity and the fact that this is the very first on-air painting on The Joy of Painting. If someone were to make a seven-figure offer, we would, of course, consider that. Until then, we plan to tour this Bob Ross painting that started it all.”
The first-ever episode of The Joy of Painting, in which Ross paints A Walk in the Woods, can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube. Among the many pop-culture references to Ross and his show over the years, the artist recently inspired a character played by actor Owen Wilson in the film Paint, released earlier this year.