Mad Cat

Mad Cat

Mad Cat  (my nod to Louis Wain)

I imagine she is saying, “I said you could make a fruit tart. I did not say you could make a ‘Use All The Fruit Tart’!”

Louis Wain

(the work below this headline  are Cats by Louis Wain and hosted on Wikimedia)

On my Nov. 3 post, someone said my cat artwork that day reminded me of Louis Wain.  I love his work.  He painted cats, cats of all sorts with a signature style.  And since he lived to 78, he had quite the oeuvre built up over the years. He started out as an illustrator he worked for magazines and drew all kinds of animals. At 23 he married but a few years later his wife died of breast cancer. During her illness, her cat comforted her . While Louis sat with her, he would sketch Peter the cat. His wife encouraged him to publish the sketches.  Later Louis expressed his gratitude to the cat, “To him, properly, belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work.”

early Louis Wain cat. Wikimedia from category Cats by Louis Wain
a cat Wain did during the early part of his career

Louis’ work would morph from regular cats to anthropomorphized cats. His first move in that direction was “A Kitten’s Christmas Party” with 150 cats across 11 panels published in a magazine. The cats were not dressed yet but they engaged in human party behaviors. His wife died shortly after the magazine spread so she there for the initial start

Wikimedia from category Cats by Louis Wain
Carol Singing by Louis William Wain, watercolor, gouache, pen and pencil on paper, 15 x 22 inches, from Wikimedia category: Cats by Louis Wain

He enjoyed quite a bit of success with his cat illustrations and even became the president of the National Cat Club. None of his sisters married and he supported them and his mother. Unfortunately he was not good at business, often selling his work outright and not keeping the copyright, speculating on failed inventions and being easily duped, so his success did not translate into financial success. But his output was prodigious.  If you bought one of those Victorian postcards depicting cats dressed in clothes and engaging in human behavior, some satirical and some not, you likely bought one of his illustrations.

Wikimedia from category Cats by Louis Wain
A group of cats engaged in a cycle-race in Hyde Park, London. from Wikimedia category: Cats by Louis Wain


He suffered from schizophrenia that became worse over time resulting in erratic and at times, violent behavior. Finally when he was 62, his sister had to put him in a pauper’s hospital because she couldn’t cope. A year after he was incarcerated, the general public found out.  H. G. Wells and many others made appeals to get him into a better facilty and then Prime Minister Brown intervened and he was transferred to a better facility.  Wells was a fan and said, “He made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. British cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.”

Wikimedia from category Cats by Louis Wain
The bachelor party. Signed Louis Wain. Oil on canvas, 29.5 x 60 cm, from Wikimedia category: Cats by Louis Wain


Wikimedia from category Cats by Louis Wain
One of Wain’s pschedelic cats, from Wikimedia category: Cats by Louis Wain

A few years later he was transferred again to Napsbury Hospital where a colony of cats resided in the gardens. He went back to doing his cat artwork.  His delusions did become worse but his erratic mood swings calmed and apparently he spent his time there content with his new family of cats until he passed in 1939.   In 2001, Michael Fitzgerald wrote a book disputing Wain’s schizophrenia and pointed out he most likely had Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Schizoprenics skill in art generally deteriorate over time but Wain continued his skills and even continue experimentations with making cats more abstract, more like mandala patterns along with doing his anthropomorphic society well-dressed cats. Some of those cat mandala experiments would come to be seen as psychedelic art decades before it became a thing in the 1960s.

Three cats performing a song and dance act. Gouache by Louis Wain. rom Wikimedia category: Cats by Louis Wain

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the world of Louis Wain.



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