Sotheby’s today announced the sale of the completely absurd painting by the Austrian artist Carl Kahler. Titled “My Wife’s Lovers,” the painting was estimated to sell for $200,000- $300,000. But the cats, being the tricky vixens they are, weren’t having any of that: The painting sold this morning at the 19th Century European Art sale to an unnamed buyer* for $826,000.
This is just another small blip in the painting’s already-extraordinary history. According to the Sotheby’s listing, Kate Birdsall Johnson commissioned the painting from Kahler in the early 1890s. For three years, he had what is perhaps a Buzzfeed writer’s dream job, sitting around Johnson’s giant mansion in Sonoma, California and sketching her 350 cats until he got their form and their personality juusssst right. It was then that he felt ready to paint 40 of them for the painting (Johnson’s husband gave it its sassy title). The enormous — 5.8 feet by 8.5 feet — painting’s star is the large tawny cat in the center named Sultan, whom Johnson bought for $3,000 during a trip to Paris.
The painting went on to be displayed at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, survive the horrific San Francisco earthquake of 1906, go on tour around the country and be called by Cat Magazine “the world’s greatest painting of cats.”
And whatever happened to the actual cats? Don’t worry; they had almost as nice of a life as this painting. Johnson left $500,000 upon her death for their care and comfort.
*Note: We have reached out to Sotheby’s for a name and will update the post with the buyer if they choose to disclose it.