On November 3 the ‘ultimate cat portrait’, a piece that was commissioned by millionaire Mrs. Kate Birdsall Johnson in 1891, will be put up for auction by Sotheby’s for an estimated $US 200,000 – 300,000. Mrs. Johnson, who was reported to have 350 cats in her 3000 acre summer residence near Sonoma, California, was known for being a cat lover. She spared no expense and went so far as hiring servants specifically to care for them at the mansion. Indoor entertainment for the cats was provided by parrots and cockatoos and, each cat had a name that they responded to when called.
Austrian born artist Carl Kahler was commissioned to do the piece even though he had never painted a cat before. For 3 years he proceeded to sketch the cats getting to know his subjects before completing the painting and, when it done he was paid about $5,000 for the work. The painting was called My Wife’s Lovers and was purportedly given this title by Mrs. Johnson’s husband.
The painting made quit an impact and was even featured in the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. It later toured through the US in 1940 eventually becoming so popular that a limited edition 9,000 prints were sold. In 1949 the painting was christened “the worlds greatest painting of cats” by Cat Magazine. After her death Mrs. Johnson left $20,000 to a relative to ensure care for the remaining cats.
More of Carl Kahler’s work, including horses and more cats, can be viewed here.
UPDATE: On November 3 the painting sold for $826,000 to a mystery buyer from California, this is considered both the largest and most expensive cat painting ever.