A 19th Century painting of 42 cats, well known to art-loving cat lovers, has been sold at auction at Sotheby's to a new cat lover for $826,000. As the San Francisco Chronicle notes, that is a half million dollars more than the estimated value of the six-foot-by-eight-foot masterpiece. Clearly a couple of wealthy cat fanciers with a large amount of wall space bid that price up!

The painting, titled "My Wife's Lovers," was commissioned in 1891 by San Francisco millionairess Kate Birdsall Johnson and her husband Robert C. Johnson — the latter of whom, obviously, gave it its title. Kate Birdsall Johnson was a major art patron in her day, and she had Austrian artist Carl Kahler — who had never painted a cat in his life — paint the elaborate portrait of 42 of her favorite felines.

Perhaps one of the original crazy cat ladies, Johnson had a passion for cats so great that she even paid $3,000 (the equivalent of $79,000 in today's dollars) for one elegant Persian she spotted while on holiday in France. That cat, whom she named Sultan, is featured sitting regally at the center of the painting.

She apparently had 350 cats, all of them named, at her 3,000-acre summer estate in Sonoma, known as Buena Vista, and in her will she left a half million dollars for their "perpetual care and comfort." The painting only depicts her favorites (and one litter of kittens).

The only detail the Chron relays that I have to disbelieve is that all 350 cats answered to their names, which is just ridiculous. And clearly Mrs. Johnson was probably a little bit nuts to have spent $79,000 on a cat, and however much she spent on this painting — which took Kahler three years and numerous sketches of their poses to complete.

The painting has apparently changed hands many times since being displayed at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, and subsequently at the Palace of Art Salon in San Francisco, which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. It was last sold to anonymous cat lover in 2005.

As Art Daily tells us, in 1949 it was called "the world’s greatest painting of cats" by Cat Magazine.

As the Time Magazine reports, it may also be the world's largest painting of cats, weighing 227 pounds in its frame, and originally needing a specially constructed wall to be hung.