The Incredible Story Behind 'World's Largest Cat Painting'

The giant painting was commissioned in 1891 by a millionaire with 350 cats.

— -- A massive 227-pound painting, believed to be the "world's largest cat painting," was recently bought at a Sotheby's auction in New York for $826,000.

The piece featuring 42 cats on a 6-feet-by-8.5-feet canvas was "so large and so heavy" that carpenters had to make a special wall reinforced with plywood because when it was put up on a normal wall, "it pulled the nails right out," Polly Sartori, Sotheby's head of 19th-century European art, told ABC News today.

But even more incredible than the painting's size and premium price is the story behind it.

The painting was commissioned in 1891 by San Francisco millionaire Kate Birdsall Johnson, who owned 350 cats in her 3,000-acre summer residence, according to the Sotheby's catalog.

The 350 fancy Persians and Angoras were attended to by a "troop of servants," and "entertained by parrots and cockatoos," Sotheby's wrote. Each cat had a name and recognized that name when called, the auction house added.

Johnson asked artist Carl Kahler to paint her cats, 42 of whom made it in the final masterpiece that took Kahler over three years to complete, Sotheby's said.

Johnson's husband jokingly referred to the work as "My Wife's Lovers." The name stuck.

The feline in the center of the painting is Sultan, a cat Johnson found so "irresistible" that she paid $3,000 for him during a trip to Paris, according to Sotheby's.

Johnson, "possibly America’s greatest cat enthusiast," according to Sotheby's, wrote in her will that $500,000 was to go to the "perpetual care and comfort" of her cats, Sotheby's said.