You’re looking at “My Wife’s Lovers,” a painting done by Carl Kahler in 1891. It represents forty-two felines of an eccentric California millionaire, and it sold for $826,000.
Kate Birdsall Johnson was what a polite person might call “well-situated” and “eccentric,” meaning she was rich and crazy. Among her favorite pastimes was feeding the many cats she had on her estate. Eventually she realized she needed something to remember them by, and so she commissioned artist Carl Kahler to paint a portrait of 42 of her favorites. This painting, called My Wife’s Lovers, represents only 12% of Kate’s overall cat endowment—she had 350 cats in all.
The painting was recently put up for auction at Sotheby’s. Expected to take in $300,000 at most, it shocked everyone by selling for $826,000. Not only does this show the enduring attraction of cat pictures, it illustrates their venerable history. Johnson kept most of her cats at her estate in Sonoma, but her home was San Francisco. So clearly the cat pic preceded the tech industry in San Francisco. We were all just waiting for technology to catch up.