It's one of those questions that you've probably never thought about but can't get out of your head once you do: Why don't you commonly see Bob Ross' paintings for sale? Zachary Crockett asks and answers it in a lengthy piece for the Hustle that adds some oomph to the question by presenting some math. The Joy of Painting ran from 1983 to 1994, and in each of his 381 episodes, Ross shepherded a landscape painting from beginning to end. Crockett explains he actually painted three versions of each painting: "one before, one during, and one after taping." And that was just a sliver of what he produced. Factor in the thousands of pieces he painted while working in Alaska for two decades (as an Air Force drill sergeant, no less) prior to his TV fame and then all the paintings he did outside of taping, and Crockett puts the total at about 30,000.
He stacks that up with estimates of other artists you'd certainly know. The crazy prolific Picasso? Ten thousand paintings. Salvador Dali managed 1,500. So how come none of the major auction houses have sold a Ross, and eBay's history shows only three sales over the last six months, with two of those being "of dubious origin." Crockett reached out to Bob Ross, Inc., which Ross owned in part with former painting student Annette Kowalski. The company says it has 1,165 Ross paintings—they're not for sale—stored in boxes in its Herndon, Virginia, offices. Part of why they aren't for sale is that Bob Ross, Inc. has better ways of making money: It generates millions off of its trademarks and copyrights, which are used on Ross-themed items and courses. (Read the full piece for more on the one Minneapolis gallery that does does sell a fair amount of his work. The piece also suggests most of Ross' paintings hang in the living rooms of "ordinary folks.")