There’s little logic about which art sells for what price, as witnessed in this recent article in Artnet. Granted, the artist figured out how to paint a cat. Forty-two of them. But someone was willing to cough up over three-quarters a million dollars to gaze upon these furry felines, almost three times what even the gallery owner figured anyone would pay. (Carl Kahler died over a century ago and is hardly a household name.)
I see artist friends selling their art for far less than I think they could get. Selling paintings is akin to selling words. Just as you find your audience and write for them, you need to find your audience and paint for them, the audience which will appreciate your art and pay its worth. A lady who was clearly obsessed with cats commissioned this work. No doubt another wealthy obsessive paid almost a million dollars. It could have been grasshoppers or elephants, simply a matter of finding someone with money to spend who finds your subject matter satisfying.
All Cats Must Go! "World's Greatest Cat Painting" Sells For $826,000
Carl Kahler, My Wife's Lovers (1891). Image: Courtesy of Sotheby's.
Carl Kahler's 1891 painting My Wife's Lovers—which rose to Internet prominence recently—sold on November 3 at Sotheby's 19th Century European Art sale for $826,000, more than two times its estimated price of $300,000.
The massive painting is six feet tall, eight-and-a-half feet wide, weighs 227 pounds, and features 42 felines. If you think that's a lot of cats (you'd be right), consider the fact that they're just a small fraction of the 350 owned by San Franciscan millionaire Kate Birdsall Johnson, who commissioned the painting.
Johnson, who it's safe to say was the ultimate cat lady, lived with her furry friends on a 3,000-acre farm near Sonoma during the turn of the century. She hired an entire staff whose sole purpose was to care for the pets, and her will stipulated a gift of $500,000 to guarantee their continued care.
When Kahler, who was best known as a painter of horse racing scenes, was commissioned to complete the work in the late 1800s, he had never painted a single cat in his life. To resolve this deficiency, he completed several sketches of each feline to become acquainted with their individual personalities and mannerisms. Sotheby's estimates that My Wife's Lovers took him three years to complete. The title was bestowed upon the work by Johnson's witty (and remarkably patient) husband.
In 1949, Cat Magazine glowingly referred to it as “the world's greatest painting of cats."
Though the buyer of the work is unknown, we think it's probably safe to assume they're a cat person. At $19,666 per cat, you'd have to be.