When Sotheby's held its 19th Century European Art Auction on November 3, 2015, art experts estimated that Carl Kahler's magnificent 1891 cat painting would sell for around $300,000. Apparently, they don't call this the "world's greatest cat painting" for nothing. The painting sold to a private collector for $826,000...more than twice the original estimate. This gorgeous painting of a whole bunch of fluffy cats (42 to be exact) has a very interesting backstory…so read on.
San Francisco millionaire Kate Birdsall Johnson was one major cat lover. She had 350 cats (mostly Persians and Angoras) living in high style at her summer estate in Sonoma, California back in the late 1800s. The cats had their own servants to care for them, as well as a bunch of exotic birds to keep them entertained.
Johnson commissioned Austrian artist Carl Kahler to paint her cats in 1891. He spent 3 years visiting with the cats and making sketches of them before starting to paint. The result of all of this hard work? The stunning My Wife’s Lovers (name suggested by Johnson’s husband).
The painting is an oil on canvas, 70 x 102 inches, and features 42 of Johnson’s cats, centered around one cat named Sultan, bought by Johnson for $3,000 in Paris. Another favorite cat, a white Angora named His Highness, is just to Sultan’s left.
My Wife’s Lovers was exhibited at the famous 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, where it became hugely popular. The painting was first auctioned off as part of the Johnson estate in 1894 and continued to be sold to different owners and also exhibited to the public over the years. It was displayed at a cat show in New York in the 1940s and gained a large following of admirers, with many prints sold. Employees at Sotheby's were so charmed by the painting while it was in the cataloging area, that they began posting pictures of themselves standing in front of it on Instagram!
For more information on this one of a kind cat painting, check out Sotheby’s website.
**All cat paintings by Carl Kahler.
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