Carl Kahler: My Wife’s Lovers
FEB 2, 2016 - JUNE 8, 2016
At the painting’s center is the pride of the collection, a magnificent Persian named Sultan, who was purchased in Paris for a huge sum. Around him, outstanding individuals and family groups are depicted from virtually every angle and with a wide range of personality traits. Kahler enlivened the scene with anecdotal details, such as the cats stalking a moth and, of course, much playful feline interaction.
The painting was not titled My Wife’s Lovers by Johnson’s husband, the iron and hardware heir Robert C. Johnson, who had died two years before, in 1889. According to Carr, it seems likely that he coined the expression to refer to the cats and that his widow adopted it for the title.
“The painting has inspired a number of absurd legends,” says Carr. “It has been erroneously reported that Johnson had as many as 350 cats and that she left them $500,000 in her will. In fact, there were never many more animals than those depicted here. Johnson left a modest amount to a relative for their maintenance. Her principal bequest established a hospital for disadvantaged women and children in San Francisco.”
The artist perished in the earthquake of 1906. His painting survived that disaster, and in 1949, Cat Magazine lauded it as “the world’s greatest painting of cats.” The painting most recently sold at a Sotheby’s auction in November 2015. It is on loan to the Portland Art Museum by its new owners, John and Heather Mozart of Northern California.
Art and cat lovers have awaited the painting eagerly, with social media hashtags such as #meowsterpiece and #purrtlandartmuseum.
The Museum is partnering with the Oregon Humane Society on a series of pop-up events in support of the painting, and to raise awareness about cat adoptions at OHS and other area shelters. In addition, visitors to the Museum can pose with a cutout version of the painting in a photo booth during the Museum’s weekly $5 Fridays (5-8 p.m.).