This Giant 1891 Painting of 42 Spoiled Cats Sells for Over $800,000 at Auction

"My Wife's Lovers" painting
"My Wife's Lovers" sold for more than $500,000 above the estimated price. Carl Kahler/Sothebys

Me-wow! Art — and probably cat — enthusiasts were seemingly in a fur-enzy to get their hands on an epic 1891 painting by artist Carl Kahler when it went up for auction at Sotheby’s 19th Century Sale in New York City on Tuesday, Nov. 3. The oil on canvas, titled “My Wife’s Lovers,” was expected to sell for between $200,000 and $300,000, but according to Sotheby’s, the winning buyer paid an astounding $826,000. 

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Melanie Brister, the auction house’s spokesperson, tells Us Weekly that there were four bidders, and that there was “a bidding war between two determined collectors starting at $300,000.”

Measuring a huge 70 by 101 3/4 inches, the meme-bait painting features 42 spoiled felines playing and relaxing in an ultra luxe setting, and was commissioned by Kate Birdsall Johnson of San Francisco in 1891.

According to Sotheby’s, Johnson was a cat lady of the highest order. The millionaire had 350 cats on her 3,000-acre home near Sonoma, Calif., and employed a “troop of servants” specifically devoted to the care of the lucky felines. (She even left $500,000 in her will for the care and comfort of her beloved kitties.) 

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As for the cats depicted in “My Wife’s Lovers,” they were actual felines owned by Johnson. According to Sotheby’s, the fluff ball with the poofy white chest and brilliant green eyes who is seated majestically in the center of the painting was named Sultan, and the feline to his left was likely His Highness, who appeared in another painting by Kahler.

Kahler worked for three years to complete the painting, spending much of that time sketching Johnson’s numerous cats in various poses, and getting to know their personalities so that he could accurately portray them on canvas. The title of the massive painting was supposedly the idea of Johnson’s husband.

“My Wife’s Lovers” has been shown in numerous exhibitions, including the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and toured the United States in the 1940s. The painting became so popular that 9,000 prints were sold, according to Sotheby’s. 

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The identity of the winning bidder — could it be famous cat enthusiasts Taylor Swift or Katy Perry? — has not been revealed, though Sotheby’s did tell Us the painting’s new owner is a private collector in California.

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