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5 Facts About the World’s Most Expensive Cat Painting

Titled "My Wife's Lovers," this work by Carl Kahler is expected to fetch $300,000 at auction.

Phillip Mlynar  |  Nov 2nd 2015


UPDATE: If we’re reading the amount on the auction website correctly, this painting sold for $826,000, more than twice the highest amount anticipated.

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A piece of art being billed as the world’s most expensive cat painting will go up for auction at Sotheby’s tomorrow (Nov. 3). It is estimated to fetch around $300,000.

Yes, that’s $300,000 for an oil painting of a bunch of largely long-haired cats lounging around on some lavish drapes.

The piece dates from 1891 and was painted by an Austrian artist called Carl Kahler. After researching this terrific piece of art history, here are five pertinent things all cats owners should know.

1. It is a tribute to cat ladies through the ages

KahlerPaintingMain

Image via Sotheby’s.

The painting was commissioned and inspired by who I’m going to confidently call one of the great cat ladies of all time: Kate Birdsall Johnson, who was said to be a millionaire with an infatuation with the feline form. She loved to surround herself with luxurious Angoras and Persians, and at one point housed a whopping 350 cats at a 3,000-acre summer ranch she owned in Buena Vista, California.

Wait, it gets better: Mrs. Johnson’s cats were waited on by an army of servants, while entertainment was provided by flocks of cockatoos and parrots that were flown in for the occasion.

After passing away, Mrs. Johnson bequeathed $500,000 to go towards her cats’ lavish lifestyles.

2. The artist was a feline virgin!

KahlerSketches

Image via Sotheby’s.

Carl Kahler was an Austrian artist renowned for his depictions of the horse racing scene. He’d never attempted to master the feline form before visiting Mrs. Johnson’s cat ranch, but showed his dedication to the cause by spending three years sketching her various kitties.

If you were wondering, there are said to be 42 cats in the painting. I tried to check by counting them but I kept getting lost, largely due to the proliferation of all-white Angoras in the middle-right section. Note also the cheeky scamps at the bottom attempting to stalk a butterfly.

3. It is a new romantic vision

KahlerNews

Image via Sotheby’s.

The painting — which, let us remind ourselves, features nothing but a crowd of cats — is titled My Wife’s Lovers. Perhaps as an inside joke, it was suggested by Mrs. Johnson’s husband. We can but speculate that he might have been more of a parrot man.

4. One cat is obviously the star

KahlerPaintingSultan

Image via Sotheby’s.

The central focus of the painting is a proud cat called Sultan. He is described as possessing “a tawny brown coat with splashes of yellow in it and a white breast,” while his intense green eyes lure the viewer in. It is claimed that Mrs. Johnson became smitten with Sultan while on a sojourn to Paris; she paid $3,000 to take him home and add him to her clowder of cats.

To Sultan’s left is a white cat with piercing blue eyes called His Highness. It is suggested that this long-haired and slightly grumpy looking Angora also appeared in another of Kahler’s paintings.

5. This might be the greatest painting ever

KahlerFramed

Image via Sotheby’s.

If cats are the best thing ever, then does it not follow that a painting of cats that is called “the world’s greatest painting of cats” is therefore the greatest painting of all time? That plaudit was bestowed upon Kahler’s work by Cat Magazine back in 1949. Let the intermingling of art and commerce be the ultimate judge when My Wife’s Lovers goes up for auction on Nov. 3.

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About the author: Phillip Mlynar writes about cats, music, food, and sometimes a mix of all three. He considers himself the world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats.