VALPARAISO, Ind. — Beloved artist Bob Ross (1942-1995) created thousands of paintings right before his viewers’ eyes across 11 years of The Joy of Painting, a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) program that aired on hundreds of stations across the United States. Yet very few of his works have ever come to market, as he and his business partners retained ownership and the vast majority remain under lock and key with no intention of selling, decades after his death.

In September of 2023, Ross’ first painting created in 1983 on his then-new program did emerge at a Minnesota gallery — but with a deal-killing $9.85 million price tag. It had been won at a fundraising auction by a volunteer at PBS station WIPB in Muncie, Indiana, where Ross had taped his show throughout its run. (To date, this work seems to have remained unsold.)

Ross’ partners, Walt and Annette Kowalski, run Bob Ross Inc., which markets Ross-themed art supplies and other licensed gear. They control all intellectual property rights to Ross and his works, having withstood a lawsuit by Ross’ son Steve in 2017.

Known for his folksy style and innate talent at landscapes, Ross continued to grow in popularity until his untimely death at 52 from lymphoma. His “happy little trees” and “happy little clouds” (as he referred to them when rendering them on camera) continue to inspire new generations of budding artists who never saw Ross’ program during his lifetime.

The provenance of this Bob Ross original, an untitled mountain landscape signed and dated 1981, from before his rise to fame, remains unclear. It appeared with little fanfare in a January 20 sale at Kraft Auction Service. Measuring 27.75 by 19.75in, the framed oil on canvas features all of Ross’ trademark style and carries a Hahnemühle Fine Art sticker to the reverse of the canvas, indicating the manufacturer. It was also accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Bob Ross Inc., signed by Annette Kowalski and dated March 23, 2023.

Estimated nebulously at $25 to $10,000, the lot opened at $25 and immediately jumped to $15,000, where bidding between the floor and a LiveAuctioneers buyer continued until the latter won out at $23,000 ($27,600 with buyer’s premium).

The sale also included a very early Bob Ross original — a small mixed media on velvet landscape dating to 1970, when Ross was serving in the United States Air Force. Signed Ross and mounted in a gold miner’s pan, it was presented to Ross’ commanding officer as a commemorative gift. The accompanying plaque reads To Capt. William H. McStraw / Good Luck and Best Wishes / From the NCO’s and SP/5’s / Ft. Greeley, Alaska – 1970. Also vaguely estimated at $25-$10,000, it hammered for $10,000 ($12,000 with buyer’s premium).