Published: November 4, 2015
NEW YORK CITY — Described as the “world’s greatest cat painting,” Carl Kahler’s “My Wife’s Lovers” sold for $826,000 at Sotheby’s on November 3. Achieving more than twice its high estimate and setting a world auction record for a painting by the artist, it was offered in the firm’s Nineteenth Century European art sale.
Austrian artist Carl Kahler was commissioned in 1891 by San Franciscan millionaire Kate Birdsall Johnson to create the large-scale painting, which depicts 42 of Mrs Johnson’s 350 much-loved cats who lived in her 3,000-acre summer residence, Buena Vista, located near Sonoma. Calif.
Kahler established his career primarily as a painter of horse racing scenes in Australia and New Zealand, where he had worked for seven years. Upon arriving in the United States, he was invited to visit a cat enthusiast with a preference for Persian and Angora breeds. Although Kahler had never painted a cat before, Johnson hired him and for the next three years he sketched her cats in a variety of poses, thus becoming acquainted with their individual personalities and traits. The painting resulted in the work titled “My Wife’s Lovers,” a title supposedly assigned by Johnson’s husband. She hired a staff whose sole purpose was to care for the felines. Upon her death, Johnson’s will stipulated a gift of $500,000 to guarantee the continued care of the cats.
Johnson lent the painting to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where it became an immediate sensation. Soon after Johnson’s estate auction of 1894, the painting was acquired by fellow San Franciscan Ernest Haquette, who displayed it in his “Palace of Art Salon,” which was destroyed in the Great Quake of 1906. “My Wife’s Lovers” was next hung in Frank C. Havens’ Piedmont Art Gallery, a public museum. Later owners Mr and Mrs Julian of Chicago sent the painting on tour through the United States in the 1940s and to Madison Square Garden for, appropriately, a cat show. With the Julian’s promotion, Kahler’s work became so popular that 9,000 prints were sold after the original painting, and in 1949, Cat Magazine called it “the world’s greatest painting of cats.”
The Nineteenth Century European art sale brought a sale total of $9,871,250. Watch for a complete review in a later edition.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm