As It Happens

[Updated] World's largest cat painting sells at auction

Sotheby's in New York has auctioned off a massive painting entitled "My Wife's Lovers." The 1891 canvas by Austrian artist Carl Kahler depicts 42 cats. On November 3rd, 2015 it sold at auction for $1,092,159 Cdn ($826,000 US). It was estimated to fetch between $200,000-$300,000 US.
My Wife's Lovers, by Austrian artist Carl Kahler, was auctioned off by Sotheby's in New York on November 3rd. The massive painting sold for $1,092,159 Cdn ($826,000 US). (Sotheby's )

It is a painting so large and so heavy that Sotheby's had to build a special wall to display it. When hung on a normal wall, it pulled out the nails. At 1.9 by 2.6 metres, it's believed to be the world's largest painting of cats.

My Wife's Lovers, by Austrian artist Carl Kahler, has now been auctioned off at Sotheby's in New York. On Tuesday morning it sold for $1,092,159 Cdn ($826,000 US). It was originally estimated to fetch between $200,000-$300,000 US. 

Polly Sartori is the head of 19th century European paintings for Sotheby's in New York. As she tells As it Happens host Carol Off, My Wife's Lovers has an interesting genesis.

No way did 42 cats sit still to have their portrait painted.- Polly Sartori, Sotheby's

Kahler had spent time in Australia painting race horses. But in 1881, the artist moved to the west coast of the United States with the goal of painting nature scenes out of Yosemite National Park. Things changed when he met San Francisco art collector Kate Johnson.

"He was invited to her cat ranch. Now, Mrs. Johnson actually was very wealthy. She was a millionaire and she had this giant mansion. Some newspapers report that she had 350 [cats]. So Carl Kahler meets Mrs. Johnson at the ranch, at the mansion, and she asks him if he would paint a portrait of her cats," explains Sartori.

"So, for three years he spends time with the cats in the mansion doing sketches. And then in and around 1893, he does their portrait. He takes all of the sketches and he puts together this monumental-sized giant painting of 42 of her cats."

Sartori assumes that Kahler sketched each cat individually.

"No way did 42 cats sit still to have their portrait painted," she says with a laugh.

All of the cats in the painting are Persians and Angoras.

"No alley cats here," says Sartori. Each cat is different and each wears a unique expression on its face.

When My Wife's Lovers first went on exhibit on Friday, two women showed up with folding chairs and just sat and stared at the painting, taking in each different cat and their painted personality.

Though Kahler painted other subjects, he is now best-known as a cat painter.


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