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My Wife's Lovers Were Not His Wife's

You're probably familiar with "My Wife's Lovers," a 19th century painting that sold for $862,000 in 2015. The artist, Austrian Carl Kahler, had never painted a cat prior to taking the commission from millionairess Kate Birdsall Johnson.

The name refers not to Kahler's wife, but to Johnson. Some say her late husband referred to her hoard as her lovers--in a nice way; others claim Kahler referred to the mega-kindle as her lovers. These cats had their own purrsonal servants and Johnson's 800-acre slice of sylvan Northern California land was their kingdom.

How did this European artist hook up with the CCL millionairess in California? In 1891, Kahler arrived in the United States and had planned to travel to Yosemite to make nature studies, but while in San Francisco, he was invited to Johnson's home and she commissioned him to paint her cats.

At the time, Kahler was known primarily in Australia and New Zealand as a painter of horse-racing scenes. He had never painted a cat. He spent the next three years sketching Johnson's 42 cats before ever taking brush to canvas.

The painting's subjects revolve around Sultan, a Persian acquired in Paris for $3000-$5000 (reports vary). The canvas is massive--6 x 8-1/2-feet-- and weighs 227 pounds. It was sold in 2015 for over $800k, was exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair, and is touted as the world's most famous cat painting.

Well, you know what they say: Once you've painted a cat you can never go back. Indeed, Kahler continuted to paint cats--mostly Johnson's--until his death.

As I researched Kahler, I saw that he died on 18 April 1906, a date forever etched in my mind: it's when the 1906 San Francisco struck. Kahler died in the disaster, but My Wife's Lovers and other paintings survived.

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