The Portland Art Museum has announced the imminent arrival of Austrian painter Carl Kahler’s excellent work, My Wife’s Lovers, an 1891 painting of so, so many cats. The painting is a 6-by-8.5-foot oil work featuring 42 of the cats who belonged to the philanthropist who commissioned the piece, Kate Birdsall Johnson. The painting is set to go up for display on Friday.
The piece has encountered some traveling bumps on its way from New York, so there’s a chance the unveiling could be delayed, but PAM is working on it. “It’s coming from New York by way of a circuitous route right from Sotheby’s auction house,” says Ian Gillingham, PAM press manager. “I’m prying our registrars to get updated information on its progress.”
When the painting does arrive, it will take another day or so to get everything in order to set the painting up in its new home. It’s important that paintings get some time to acclimate to new spaces to help preserve their dignity, even in this case. “[We] need to monitor [the painting from a conservation standpoint. Maybe to make sure it’s not bringing anything else into the museum.”
The museum will set up a “selfie booth” with the painting, lined to keep it safe. Visitors will be able to take photos of themselves in the painting, mingling with the cats, as the painting reaches what must be its peak potential. Selfies will be $5 a piece and the money will go to the Oregon Humane Society.
My Wife’s Lovers was sold in November of last year for $826,000, more than twice its estimated price. Allegedly, the 42 cats featured in the painting represent only a handful of the 350 Johnson owned. Johnson hired an entire staff whose only purpose was to take care of her furry pets. Her will specified a $500,000 gift to make sure they were taken care of after she was gone.
Another great story about this unique painting is how Kahler came to paint the cats so well” before this commission, he had never before painted a cat. To make sure he was up to the task, Kaher made several sketches of each cat to get to know them. It took him up to three years to complete My Wife’s Lovers.