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"World's greatest cat painting" by Carl Kahler sells for $826,000 at Sotheby's New York
Carl Kahler, My Wife's Lovers, oil on canvas, 70 by 101 3/4 in. 177.8 by 258.4 cm. Est. $200/300,000. Sold for: $ 826,000.

NEW YORK, NY.- Today at Sotheby’s New York, during the 19th Century European Art sale, Austrian artist Carl Kahler’s ‘My Wife's Lovers’ commissioned in 1891 by San Franciscan millionaire Kate Birdsall Johnson sold for $826,000, more than two times the high estimate, setting an auction record for a painting by the artist. The large-scale painting depicts 42 of Mrs. Johnson’s 350 much-loved cats who lived in her 3000 acre summer residence, Buena Vista, located near Sonoma. California. The 19th Century European Art sale brought a sale total of $9,871,250.

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, Mrs. 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 entitled My Wife’s Lovers, a title supposedly assigned by Mrs. Johnson’s husband. She hired a staff whose sole purpose was to care for the felines. Upon her death, Mrs. Johnson’s will stipulated a gift of $500,000 to guarantee the continued care of the cats.

Mrs. Johnson lent My Wife’s Lovers to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where it became an immediate sensation. Soon after Mrs. 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 My Wife’s Lovers 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.”

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