There are cat enthusiasts and crazy cat ladies, and San Francisco art collector Kate Birdsall Johnson definitely liked her cats. The millionaire is said to have had some 350 felines at her 3,000-acre summer residence/cat ranch in Buena Vista, Calif., and invited artist Carl Kahler to do a portrait of them in the 1890s. Sotheby's originally estimated that the 227-pound, 6-by-8.5-foot painting, called "My Wife's Lovers," would fetch between $200,000 and $300,000, but a mystery buyer purchased what may now also have the distinction of being the priciest cat painting in the world for $826,000 on Tuesday.
Legend has it that Kahler, who had recently moved to California from Australia, where he'd painted racehorses, had never painted a cat before and thus spent three years doing sketches of Johnson's felines. The resulting "meowsterpiece" features 42 of them, reports the New York Post, with a critter named Sultan, whom Johnson bought for $3,000 in Paris, front and center. All the cats in the painting are Persians and Angoras, reports the CBC, each with its own name and likely painted separately, Sotheby's head of 19th-century European paintings says. "No way did 42 cats sit still to have their portrait painted," she adds. A legion of servants is said to have looked after the felines. Johnson died not long after the painting was finished. (Like looking at cats? That's OK, it's good for you.)