If you thought cats were something invented by the Internet, think again. The world’s largest cat painting was commissioned in 1891 and, on Tuesday, it sold at auction for $826,000. The painting of 42 regally posing Persians and Angoras was painted for Kate Birdsall Johnson, a San Francisco millionaire whose insane love for her 350 (!!!) cats was matched by her equally insane desire to care for them. According to the Sotheby’s auction catalog, Johnson hired “a troop of servants” to entertain the individually named cats who lived with Johnson and her husband in their mansion.
Johnson hired artist Carl Kahler to paint a portrait of what we’re assuming were her 42 favorite cats, even though the Austrian had never painted anything remotely feline before. He spent three years with the Johnsons, studying and sketching the cats before he ever picked up a brush. Sultan, the brown and white cat seated in the center of the painting, really was Mrs. Johnson’s favorite. She saw him on a trip to Paris and asked his owner how much he cost. When told that Sultan was not for sale, Johnson offered $3,000 (roughly $79,000 in today’s dollars) and that “not for sale” thing preeetty much disappeared out the nearest window. When Johnson died, she left $500,000 to her cats, to ensure that they would be taken care of.
San Francisco millionaire Kate Birdsall Johnson might be the greatest #cat enthusiast in US history. In 1891, she commissioned Austrian artist Carl Kahler to create a large-scale painting of 42 of her 350 much-loved cats, which her husband lightheartedly titled ‘My Wife’s Lovers’. Video at link in bio! The work is on view at Sotheby’s #NYC headquarters from 30 October – 2 November, ahead of the 19th Century European Art sale on 3 November. #NationalCatDay #CatsOfInstagram #meow ????
The painting, which measures 8 1/2 feet in length and weighs 227 pounds, was called “My Wife’s Lovers,” a title that manages to be both sort of funny and sort of creepy. “My Wife’s Lovers” was displayed at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where, as Sotheby’s notes, “it became an immediate sensation.” It also survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and was taken to Madison Square Garden for a cat show. The sale price at Sotheby’s was a whopping half a million dollars over the estimate.
The buyer wished to remain anonymous.