Modern ArtifactBob Ross’ first on-air painting, A Walk in the Woods.

The first piece artist Bob Ross ever painted on air for his television program The Joy of Painting recently hit the market for a staggering $9.85 million by the Minneapolis gallery Modern Artifact — a price the gallery called a “not-for-sale number,” as they plan to take the piece on tour.

Bob Ross hosted more than 400 episodes of The Joy of Painting during its run on PBS between 1983 and 1994. The show elevated Ross to the status of cultural icon, and his name is still widely recognized today.

Known for his calm demeanor and positivity, Ross was a prolific painter who created tens of thousands of pieces during his lifetime. He is often quoted for his mantra: “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”

Despite his extensive catalog of work, however, Ross’ paintings rarely go to auction. Ross’ first on-air piece, A Walk in the Woods, bucks that trend.

Painted live in January 1983, A Walk in the Woods embodies everything Ross’ paintings came to be known for. Like most of Ross’ work, the piece depicts a tranquil nature scene, painted quickly using a “wet on wet” technique. In the lower left-hand corner, Ross’ signature stands out in red against the natural backdrop.

As CNN reported, the painting was initially purchased by a one-time volunteer at the PBS station in Falls Church, Virginia, where the first season of The Joy of Painting was filmed. The painting was listed as part of a fundraising option in November 1983.

For 40 years, the painting remained in the possession of the volunteer’s family. It was acquired by Modern Artifact earlier this year and verified as authentic by Bob Ross Inc. The owner of Modern Artifact, Ryan Nelson, said demand for Bob Ross’ original pieces has increased over the years.

“We are seeing a huge demand for his original works, which are hard to come by,” Nelson said in a statement according to the Art Newspaper. “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.”

Bob Ross

NetflixBob Ross produced anywhere between 25,000 and 30,000 paintings over his career.

Throughout its run, The Joy of Painting was viewed by millions of people at home, many of whom were less interested in learning to paint than they were enthralled by Ross’ hypnotic smoothness and permed hair.

Throughout each 26-minute episode, Ross simultaneously taught his viewers how to paint in his technique and encouraged them with unparalleled calmness to discover their own inner artist.

Before that, though, Bob Ross served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Alaska. It was here that Ross fell in love with the natural landscapes that so often appeared in his painting.

And while Ross grew tired of the yelling that accompanied his position, it was through his time in the military that he first discovered his love of painting. He had signed up for a painting class through the United Service Organization, but found himself frustrated with the instructors.

Then, Ross discovered a show called The Magic of Oil Painting, hosted by German-born artist William Alexander. Alexander notably specialized in “alla prima” painting — otherwise known as the “wet on wet” technique.

Ross developed his own skill in this technique, which allowed him to complete entire works during his 26-minute-long television episodes. In total, it is estimated that Bob Ross completed anywhere between 25,000 and 30,000 paintings over the course of his life.

Unfortunately, Ross’ life and career came to a sudden and early end on July 4, 1995, following a brief and unsuccessful battle with lymphoma. He was just 52 years old when he died.

For other news from the art world, read about the Banksy painting that self-destructed immediately after being sold. Or, dive into the story of Steve Ross, Bob Ross’ son.

Austin Harvey

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