Sotheby’s to Sell Possibly the World’s Largest Cat Painting—Let the Bidding Begin!

When it was hung, it pulled the nails right out of the wall.

Carl Kahler, My Wife's Lovers.
Image: Courtesy Sotheby's.

While all eyes will be on the contemporary art auctions during the second week of November, one work coming up at an auction might steal the show the week before.

On November 3, in its upcoming 19th century European art auction, Sotheby’s will showcase the ultimate homage to the beloved cat: a painting that is six feet tall and eight-and-a-half feet wide, and weighs a whopping 227 pounds.

Entitled My Wife’s Lovers, by Austrian artist Carl Kahler, the work is estimated to sell for $200,000–300,000. Polly Sartori, head of 19th century European paintings, drawings, and sculpture says that anyone who comes to see any of the works in the upcoming auction, which go on view Friday, won’t be able to avoid the piece.

“It’s hard not to see it, we’re putting it right in the center of the gallery,” Sartori told artnet News over the phone. “The picture is so large and so heavy, we had to make a special wall to hang it; when we originally put the painting up on a normal wall, it pulled the nails right out of the wall.”

It has become increasingly apparent in recent years that cats not only rule the Internet, but have also maintained a steady following in the art world in real life. There have been shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Balthus: Cats and Girls“), the Brooklyn Museum (“Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt“), and the Museum of the Moving Image (“How Cats Took Over the Internet“), and the Walker Art Center has a yearly festival devoted to Internet cat videos.

There’s also CatConLA, the comic con of the cat world; a book of cats starring in famous paintings from art history; and a series of drawings reimagining prominent politicians as cats. And billionaire Mark Cuban even claimed he has hawked a few of his own cat doodles.

With this work though, perhaps some of that fervor will spread to the tony world of the auction house. Over 5,000 people have viewed the video showcasing the painting since the auction house posted it last weekend.

“For a 19th century [work], that’s extraordinary,” said Sartori. “We knew we had a total winner about two months ago, when we had it just leaning up in our cataloging area, and many of our staffers would take a photograph in front of it and post it on Instagram and we hadn’t even posted our press release yet!”

The behemoth work dates back to 1891, when San Francisco art collector and cat lover (obviously) Kate Birdsall Johnson commissioned the Austrian artist to paint her 42 cats, (rumor has it she owned anywhere from 50 to 350 cats at any given time, and they had their own floor in her Sonoma County mansion). There is no concrete evidence as to how long it took the artist, who had never painted a cat before, to create the work. But it is estimated that it took over 3 years, for which he was paid $5,000. The title is attributed to Ms. Johnson’s husband, who obviously had a dry sense of humor.

While Sotheby’s has yet to put on an all cat art auction, it certainly isn’t out of the question, according to Sartori.

“Well you never know,” said Sartori. “There’s a handful of 19th century artists who painted cats, and we certainly do have collectors who. every time we get a cat picture, come in for them. So, we’ll see. We like to do themed shows, so a cat show might be a fun idea.”

Keep in mind that Thursday, October 29 is National Cat Day.

(h/t Blouin Artinfo)


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