What Happened to the 1200 Paintings Painted by Bob Ross? The Mystery Has Finally Been Solved

Very few artists enjoy the degree of recog­ni­tion that’s been con­ferred upon the late tele­vi­sion edu­ca­tor Bob Ross, though sales of his work hov­er around zero.

It’s not due to scarci­ty. Ross pumped out three near­ly-iden­ti­cal paint­ings per episode of his series, The Joy of Paint­ing (watch them online here). That’s 403 episodes over the course of 31 sea­sons on pub­lic television—or 1209 can­vas­es of clouds, moun­tains, and “hap­py lit­tle trees.”

Shouldn’t eco­nom­ics dic­tate that these would have only increased in val­ue fol­low­ing their creator’s untime­ly death from lym­phoma in 1995?

A hand­ful have been donat­ed to the Smith­son­ian Nation­al Muse­um Of Amer­i­can His­to­ry’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion. Leav­ing those aside, why are there no Bob Ross­es fetch­ing high prices on the auc­tion block?

Is the painter’s leg­endary hyp­not­ic appeal a fac­tor? Did he sub­con­scious­ly manip­u­late even the most cut­throat col­lec­tors into a state of sen­ti­men­tal attach­ment where­in prof­it mat­ters not a jot?

As The New York Times-pro­duced video above points out, Ross’ great mis­sion in life was to get oth­ers painting—quickly and joy­ful­ly.

Which is not to say he blithe­ly tossed the fruits of his labor into the incin­er­a­tor after that pur­pose had been served.

The rea­son Ross’ paint­ings aren’t on the mar­ket is they’re neat­ly stacked in card­board car­tons at Bob Ross Inc. in Hern­don, Vir­ginia. It hard­ly con­sti­tutes archival stor­age, but the box­es are neat­ly num­bered, and every­thing is account­ed for.

And that is where they’re like­ly to remain, accord­ing to exec­u­tive assis­tant Sarah Strohl and pres­i­dent Joan Kowal­s­ki, the daugh­ter of Ross’ long­time busi­ness part­ner. (Her moth­er, Annette is Ross’ for­mer stu­dent and the fore­most authen­ti­ca­tor of his work.)

For now, if any­one endeav­ors to sell you a Bob Ross orig­i­nal, it’s safe to assume it’s a fake.

Bet­ter yet, paint your own. Bob Ross Inc. tends to both the master’s rep­u­ta­tion and his lucra­tive off-screen busi­ness, sell­ing instruc­tion­al books and paint­ing sup­plies.

Be fore­warned, though, it’s won’t be as easy as the ever-placid mas­ter made it seem. Have a look at these come­di­ans scram­bling to keep up with his moves for the Bob Ross Chal­lenge, a fundrais­er for the Leukemia & Lym­phoma Soci­ety.

Ross, of course, nev­er broke a sweat on cam­era, which lends a bit of cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance to the Times’ video’s fre­net­ic edit­ing. (I nev­er thought I’d have to issue a seizure warn­ing for some­thing Bob Ross-relat­ed, but those can­vas­es flash by awful­ly quick­ly at the 1:09 mark and again at 10:36. )

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch Every Episode of Bob Ross’ The Joy Of Paint­ing Free Online: 403 Episodes Span­ning 31 Sea­sons

Watch 13 Come­di­ans Take “The Bob Ross Chal­lenge” & Help Raise Mon­ey for The Leukemia & Lym­phoma Soci­ety

A Big List of Free Art Lessons on YouTube

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Sep­tem­ber 9 for the kick off of anoth­er sea­son of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


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Comments (10)
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  • Chris says:

    Why did Bob Ross him­self spe­cial­ly say on his show this state­ment?

    “One of the ques­tions that I hear over and over and over is, ‘What do we do with all these paint­ings we do on tele­vi­sion?’ Most of these paint­ings are donat­ed to PBS sta­tions across the coun­try. They auc­tion them off, and they make a hap­py buck with ‘em. So if you’d like to have one, get in touch with your PBS sta­tion, cause…we give them to sta­tions all over the coun­try to help them out with their fundrais­ers.”

    Did his Com­pa­ny reac­quire all paint­ings donat­ed to fundrais­ers?

  • Clay Maloy says:

    This is what I have heard!

  • Donna Marie Mattingly says:

    I found Bob Ross paint­ing years ago when I was a teen. Back then we had no col­or TV but when I watched him paint he took my breath away. Now 50 some years lat­er I can get enough of watch­ing him do his thing. I hope one day to be half as good as he was and still is. I got my love for every­thing art from him. He hooked me and now that I could get my hands on his art sets and dvds. I have found a new pur­pos­es in life. If I could upload one of my wet on wet paint­ings I would love oth­ers see what watch­ing him and his theres no mis­takes just hap­py acci­dents. THANK YOU! BOB ROSS for what you’ve giv­en me.

  • Brenda says:

    I am a 75years old Aus­tralian fight­ing can­cer in both lungs and liv­er. I found his shows by acci­dent and was hooked from then on…Is it pos­si­ble to get a dvd of a few of his paintings..I cant paint but Bob has made cutious to see if I can…

  • Ruth Owens says:

    Sor­ry to hear about your can­cer Bren­da and hope you win the Bat­tle . I have recent­ly found Bob Ross and find him total­ly inspi­ra­tional . I have always loved paint­ing but have renewed my enthu­si­asm by lis­ten­ing to and watch­ing Bob on The Joy of Paint­ing . He is an oasis of calm dur­ing this pan­dem­ic and am sure you will find that you have hid­den tal­ents. Cer­tain­ly worth a try.
    All Best wish­es
    Ruth. 🎨👍

  • Ruth Owend says:

    Bob Ross has rekin­dled my love of paint­ing and giv­en me inspi­ra­tion which is so impor­tant dur­ing this pan­dem­ic. Iner­tia could set in. I
    Wish Bren­da all the best with her fight against can­cer and wish her well on tak­ing up paint­ing . Hope she finds a hid­den tal­ent 🎨👍

  • Jane Potrzebowski says:

    We have an orig­i­nal paint­ing of his and won­der­ing how much it is worth it is auto­graphed as well

  • Joy Shalaby says:

    I remem­ber see­ing Bob Ross on tv as a teenag­er in the 80’s. I always dab­bled in art, like doo­dling, sketch­ing etc. I dont have cable so watch­ing tv one day, I came across The Joy Of Paint­ing one morn­ing in the wee hours- it was a week­end and its Bob Ross Mara­ton!! I was hooked! I start­ed watch­ing his videos and­c­paint­ing alongvwith him(rewinding many, many i should add anoth­er many times) I felt such a peace­ful feel­ing each time I st down to paint and lis­ten to him. While not religous by any means, Ive always found that Ive had stages of the sixth sense. I found myself ask­ing God why Ive come to start paint­ing at age 50 and why I feel a deep con­nec­tion to Bob… long sto­ry short…One day I seen a sen­tence ” What hap­pened to Bob Ross and when. as I start­ed to read, I under­stood. I too am a scor­pio and recent­ly found out I have can­cer and I have a poor prog­no­sis from day one. I fig­ured I have about 2years from when I found out due to all I read and like I said, some things I just know. Ive enjoyed my time paint­ing and am hap­py to leave every­one I give a paint­ing to, a piece of me. Some­thing to leave behind that Im proud of, that I spent my last years doing. also know­ing that Bob was a fel­low scoripo and Ill pass at the same age he was, makes sense how and why this all came about. said Id keep it short but have ti men­tion I have cts as pets, have com­mu­ni­ty cats in a colony out­side and spends many hours, feed­ing and taljing with wildlife for many years, whih helped me to make sense of it all. Even in death, Bob is helibg me as Im sure he has and is for so many! For­ev­er a ffan and friend in my head! The Best Always, Joy

  • Joy says:

    Hi Bren­da, I just post­ed a mes­sage on here. I just start­ed read­ing n post­ed one. I dont even know what site etc. this it but just wamt­ed to say I too just found out I have can­cer and have a poor prog­no­sis. hope youre feel­ing as best as you can! I too just start­ed paint­ing with Bob(sorta speak) you can do it!! best wish­es, Joy

  • Anthony Condra says:

    Bob Ross died in 1995, not 1994.

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