World’s Greatest Cat Painting Headed to Portland Art Museum

But is this just a way to avoid paying taxes?

Carl Kahler, My Wife's Lover's, (1891).
Image: Courtesy of Sotheby's

Cat Magazine dubbed Carl Kahler’s oil on canvas My Wife’s Lovers “the world’s greatest painting of cats” in 1949. Sixty-seven years later the feline-filled masterpiece is making its way to Portland, Oregon, to go on view this month at the Portland Art Museum.

John and Heather Mozart purchased “My Wife’s Lovers” at Sotheby’s in New York last November. While the auction estimate was $200,000 -$300,000, the couple paid $826,000 for the pricey painting, which depicts 42 cats in glorious repose.

The Mozarts also collect colonial furniture and Elvis Presley memorabilia for their elaborately-decorated northern California home, along with vintage cars. “They’re fun to work with, because when you find something appropriate, you all know it right off,” designer Craig Wright told Architectural Digest about the antique-obsessed couple.

The decision to show in cat-friendly Portland might not be entirely altruistic, however, since Oregon is one of five states that have neither a sales tax nor a use tax. A 2014 New York Times article details a legal loophole exploited by some art collectors, which allows them to avoid paying taxes on expensive artworks by first publicly displaying the piece for a few months in a state like Oregon.

When the work is finally sent home, the collectors usually do not pay a use tax if they live in certain states, since the work’s first “use” was somewhere tax-free. In California, the rate of sales tax is 7.5%, meaning the Mozarts would have paid in the range of $61,950 on their cat painting had they shipped it directly home.

Perhaps the couple just wanted the public to be able to appreciate their purchase, and decided to send it off to a museum before preserving it in private. But then why not ship it off to somewhere more specific, like Amsterdam’s KattenKabinet?

A representative from the Portland Art Museum told artnet News via email that the painting is slated to go on view on January 27, and should be on view through the end of April, although neither date is officially confirmed.

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