Where Are All the Bob Ross Paintings? We Found Them.


Watched the video? Here are a few more details.


Bob Ross made three versions of each painting that appeared on “The Joy of Painting.” The first was made before the show, to be used as a reference. He painted the second during the 26-minute taping, sometimes with last-minute improvisations. The third was made afterward, for instructional books.

The donation to the Smithsonian includes the book version of “Blue Ridge Falls,” from Season 30 (1994):

As well as all three versions of the painting “On a Clear Day,” from Season 14 (1988):

Other items include a converted stepladder that was used as an easel used during the first season of the show, and two handwritten notebooks that were used to plan the production of Seasons 2 and 3.

“The hardest part was choosing the paintings,” said Eric Jentsch, the entertainment and sports curator for the National Museum of American History. Mr. Jentsch and his colleague Ryan Lintelman visited the offices of Bob Ross Inc. in Herndon, Va., to find the images and materials that best exemplified Mr. Ross’s lifetime of work.

The Smithsonian also acquired fan letters sent to Mr. Ross, including some written after he died of lymphoma in 1995 at 52. “These letters help reveal the significant impact Ross has had on diverse individuals and communities, helping them to express and feel better about themselves,” Mr. Jentsch said.

The paintings and other objects officially became part of the museum’s permanent collection on March 22.

For now, the Smithsonian has no plans to display the paintings.

We don’t know.

According to an analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight, Mr. Ross painted in 381 of the 403 episodes of the show (the rest featured a guest). If three versions were made of each of those paintings, at least 1,143 originals would exist. Bob Ross Inc. estimates that it has 1,165 paintings stored on site.

But Mr. Ross also painted as an instructor, as well as for public events and for charity, so there may be additional paintings out there.

In the rare cases when a Bob Ross painting does surface, it depends who is buying. Joan Kowalski, president of Bob Ross Inc., said she has seen authentic Ross paintings sell online for $8,000 to $10,000 in recent years.

After we set out on our quest, a three-panel painting described as a “Bob Ross Original Oil Painting Triptych Mountain Landscape” surfaced on eBay. It is listed at $55,000:

Bob Ross Inc. will authenticate paintings that are sent to be inspected in person by Annette Kowalski, Joan Kowalski’s mother and the woman who discovered Mr. Ross. (The company will not certify images that can be viewed only as scans or digital files.)

Annette Kowalski said that in addition to the brushwork and other signs of Mr. Ross’s hand, she looks for a specific detail in the quality of his signature that she declined to describe:

In the 11 years that Mr. Ross painted on television, there are only a few known instances when he included a human figure in his landscapes. In “Morning Walk” (Series 17, Episode 11, from 1989), two people stroll through the woods:

In “Campfire” (Series 3, Episode 10, 1984), a figure in a hat leans against a tree:

According to Annette Kowalski, “Campfire” was among Mr. Ross’s least favorite paintings.

Though cabins often appear in Mr. Ross’s landscapes, they are rarely depicted with chimneys (another sign of people).

Originally Mr. Ross and his wife, Jane, shared ownership of the company with Annette and Walt Kowalski, who had helped to finance Mr. Ross’s early career. Jane Ross died in 1992; when Mr. Ross died in 1995, the company was left to the Kowalskis alone.

Cricket.

Mr. Ross had several pet squirrels, a number of which he featured on his show. One was named Bobette — a combination of Bob and Annette. Bobette appeared in several episodes in Series 18 (1989). Another squirrel, Peapod, appeared in Series 22 and 23 (1991). Peapod Jr. joined in Series 30 and 31 (1993-94).

Bob Ross did not always have a perm:

According to Annette Kowalski, Mr. Ross originally chose to perm his hair because it was cheaper than getting frequent haircuts.

Later, she said, he disliked the hairstyle but did not feel he could change it because it was depicted in the company logo:

William Alexander was the creator of “The Magic of Oil Painting,” which aired on PBS from 1974 to 1982. In 1984, he symbolically handed over his brush to Mr. Ross in a marketing campaign.



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