Louis William Wain
5 August 1860
|Died||4 July 1939 (aged 78)|
|Resting place||St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London|
(m. 1883; died 1887)
Louis William Wain (5 August 1860 – 4 July 1939) was an English artist best known for his drawings, which consistently featured anthropomorphized large-eyed cats and kittens. Later in life, he was confined to mental institutions and was alleged to have suffered from schizophrenia. This claim is disputed among specialists. According to some psychiatrists, the onset of schizophrenia can be seen in his works.
Louis William Wain was born on 5 August 1860 in Clerkenwell in London. His father, William Matthew Wain, was a textile trader and embroiderer; his mother, Felicia Marie/Julie Felicie (Boiteux) was French. He was the first of six children and the only male child. None of his five sisters ever married. At the age of thirty, his youngest sister was certified as insane, and admitted to an asylum. The remaining sisters lived with their mother for the duration of their lifetimes, as did Louis for the majority of his life.
Wain was born with a cleft lip and the doctor gave his parents the orders that he should not be sent to school or taught until he was ten years old. As a youth, he was often truant from school and spent much of his childhood wandering around London. Following this period, Louis studied at the West London School of Art and eventually became a teacher there for a short period. At the age of 20, Wain was left to support his mother and his five sisters after his father's death.
Wain soon quit his teaching position to become a freelance artist. In this role, he achieved great success. He specialized in drawing animals and country scenes, and worked for several journals including the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, where he stayed for four years, and The Illustrated London News, beginning in 1886. Through the 1880s, Wain's work included detailed illustrations of English country houses and estates, along with livestock he was commissioned to draw at agricultural shows. His work at this time includes a wide variety of animals, and he maintained his ability to draw creatures of all kinds throughout his lifetime. At one point, he hoped to make a living by drawing dog portraits.
At the age of 23, Wain married his sisters' governess, Emily Richardson, who was ten years his senior (which was considered scandalous at the time), and moved with her to Hampstead in north London. Emily soon began to suffer from breast cancer and died three years into their marriage. Prior to Emily's death, Wain discovered the subject that would define his career. During her illness, Emily was comforted by their pet cat Peter, a stray black and white kitten who had been rescued after he was heard meowing in the rain one night. Emily's spirits were lifted by Peter, and Louis began to draw extensive sketches of him, which Emily strongly encouraged him to have published. She died before this happened, but he continued to make cat sketches. Wain later wrote of Peter, "To him, properly, belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work." Peter can be recognized in many of Wain's early published works.
In 1886, Wain's first drawing of anthropomorphized cats was published in the Christmas issue of the Illustrated London News, entitled "A Kittens' Christmas Party". The illustration depicted 150 cats, many of which resembled Peter, engaged in activities such as sending invitations, holding a ball, playing games, and making speeches. The picture as a whole spreads across eleven panels. The cats remain on all fours, unclothed, and without the variety of human-like expression which would characterize Wain's later work. In subsequent years, Wain's cats began to walk upright, smile broadly and use other exaggerated facial expressions and would wear sophisticated, contemporary clothing. Wain's illustrations showed cats playing musical instruments, serving tea, playing cards, fishing, smoking, and enjoying a night at the opera. Such anthropomorphic portrayals of animals were popular in Victorian England and were often found in prints, on greeting cards and in satirical illustrations such as the work of John Tenniel.
Over the next thirty years, Wain was a prolific artist. At times he produced as many as several hundred drawings a year. He illustrated about one hundred children's books, and his work appeared in papers, journals, and magazines, including the Louis Wain Annual, which ran from 1901 to 1915. His work was also regularly reproduced on the picture postcards, currently highly sought-after. In 1898 and 1911 he was chairman of the National Cat Club.
Wain's illustrations often parody human behaviour, satirizing fads and fashions of the day. He wrote, "I take a sketch-book to a restaurant, or other public places, and draw the people in their different positions as cats, getting as near to their human characteristics as possible. This gives me doubly nature, and these studies I think [to be] my best humorous work."
Wain was involved with several animal charities, including the Governing Council of Our Dumb Friends League, the Society for the Protection of Cats, and the Anti-Vivisection Society. As mentioned earlier, he was active in the National Cat Club, acting as President and Chairman of the committee at times. He felt that he helped "to wipe out the contempt in which the cat has been held" in England.
Despite his popularity, Wain suffered financial difficulty throughout his life. He remained responsible for supporting his mother and sisters and had little business sense. Wain was modest, naive and easily exploited, ill-equipped for bargaining in the world of publishing. He often sold his drawings outright, retaining no rights over their reproduction. He was easily misled and would found himself duped by the promise of a new invention or other money-making schemes.
He travelled to New York in 1907, where he drew some comic strips, such as Cats About Town and Grimalkin, for newspapers owned by the Hearst Corporation. His work was widely admired, although his critical attitude towards the city made him the subject of sniping in the press. He returned home with even less money than before, due to imprudent investment in a new type of oil lamp.
Circa 1914, Wain created a number of ceramic pieces produced by Amphora Ceramics. Dubbed the "futurist cat" the pieces were of cats and dogs in angular shapes and with geometrical markings. They are considered to be in the Cubist art style and represent Wain's artistic expression in ceramics.
The onset of Wain's schizophrenia may have been precipitated by Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite which is excreted by cats in their faeces. The theory that toxoplasmosis can trigger schizophrenia is the subject of ongoing research, though the origins of the theory can be traced back as early as 1953.
In 1924, when his sisters could no longer cope with his erratic, sometimes violent behaviour, Wain was committed to a pauper ward of Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting. A year later, he was discovered there, and his circumstances were widely publicized. This led to appeals from such figures as H. G. Wells and the personal intervention of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Wain was transferred to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark, and again in 1930 to Napsbury Hospital near St Albans in Hertfordshire, north of London. Napsbury was relatively pleasant, with a garden and colony of cats, and he spent his final 15 years there in peace. While he became more and more deluded, his erratic mood swings subsided, and he continued drawing for pleasure. His work from this period is marked by bright colours, flowers, and intricate and abstract patterns, though his primary subject of cats remained the same.
Theories and controversy regarding Wain
Writing in 2001, Dr Michael Fitzgerald disputes the claim of schizophrenia, saying that Wain more likely had Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Of particular note, Fitzgerald indicates that while Wain's art became more abstract as he grew older, his technique and skill as a painter did not diminish, as one would expect from a person with schizophrenia. Elements of visual agnosia (the inability to recognize certain objects, even though a person can recall them if asked), moreover, are demonstrated in his painting. If Wain did have visual agnosia, it might have manifested itself as extreme attention to detail.
Series of his paintings have commonly been used as examples in psychology textbooks to putatively show the change in his style as his psychological condition deteriorated. However, given that Wain did not date his works, it is not known if these works were created in the order presented in textbooks, which typically show more florid, abstract pictures as appearing later, indicative of Wain's mental state. Rodney Dale, the author of Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, has criticized this characterization and argued that "Wain experimented with patterns and cats, and even quite late in life was still producing conventional cat pictures, perhaps 10 years after his [supposedly] 'later' productions which are patterns rather than cats."
In 2012, Dr Kevin Van Eeckelen proposed in an article about psychotic patterns that evidence of deterioration was found in Louis Wain's earlier (narrative) work, for instance in the Louis Wain Kitten Book (1903). This analysis is based on the mimetic (girardian) view of psychosis, which focuses on the continuity between 'normality' and 'madness'.
In December 2012, the psychiatrist Dr David O’Flynn, at a gallery talk at an exhibition of "Kaleidoscopic Cats" at the Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum, proposed viewing the series as the creation of two men, "Louis Wain, who created them, and Walter Maclay (1902–1964), the psychiatrist who organised them into a series."
O'Flynn suggested Maclay saw in the series a proof of his own ideas, partly based on his 1930s experiments with art and mescaline-induced psychosis. Maclay concluded that the creative ability of people with schizophrenia deteriorated. O'Flynn says that, based on examination of the work of outsider artists, the link between schizophrenia and the deterioration of artwork doesn't hold true. Looking at Wain's late work, O'Flynn sees greater experimentation and use of colour, not a deterioration. Despite the series being known to be assembled, and the pictures not dated since the 1960s, "their representation of something that doesn't exist, namely psychotic deterioration, has been surprisingly robust". The series has become "the Mona Lisa of asylum art".
H. G. Wells said of him, "He has made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves."
His work is now collectable, but forgeries are common. Admirers and collectors include David Tibet, best known as the founder of experimental music project Current 93. He has referenced Wain's work in a musical context.
Although Wain's books are all in the public domain, to date none have been reprinted other than "Father Tuck's Struwwelpeter". A number of collections of his artwork, however, have been released.
- All Sorts of Comical Cats. Verses by Clifton Bingham London: Ernest Nister
- Fun at the Zoo with Verses By Clifton Bingham,
- Funny Favourites. Forty-five Pen-and-Ink Drawings by Louis Wain. London. Ernest Nister.
- Madame Tabby's Establishment (1886)
- Our Farm: The Trouble of Successes Thereof (1888)
- Dreams by French Firesides (1890)
- Peter, A Cat O'One Tail: His Life and Adventures (1892)
- Old Rabbit the Voodoo and Other Sorcerers (1893)
- Fun and Frolic, with verses by Clifton Bingham, London: Ernest Nister (1900).
- The Dandy Lion (1900/01)
- Cats (1902)
- Pa Cats, Ma Cats and their kittens (1903)
- The Louis Wain Kitten Book (1903)
- Cat's Cradle (1908)
- Louis Wain's Cat Painting Book (c.1910)
- Louis Wain's Cats and Dogs (c. 1910)
- The Louis Wain Nursery Book (c. 1910)
- Louis Wain's Cat Mascot (postcard coloring book, c.1910)
- Father Tuck's Struwwelpeter As Seen by Louis Wain, Told in Merry Rhymes by Norman Gale (c.1910), second Edition Fidgety Phil and Other Tales (c. 1925)
- Daddy Cat (1915)
- Little Red Riding Hood and Other Tales (1919)
- Somebody's Pussies (1925)
- The Boy who Shares My Name (1926)
- Parkin, Michael (2004). "Wain, Louis William (1860–1939)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
- Parkin, Michael (2004). "Wain, Louis William (1860–1939), artist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36677. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- "Depicter of cats". The West Australian. Perth. 7 July 1939. p. 18. Retrieved 19 January 2020.
- "Louis Wain & His Cats". World Collectors Net. Archived from the original on 18 May 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
- Van Eeckelen, Kevin. "HOW MAD IS THAT CAT? Psychotic Patterns Starring in the Louis Wain Kitten Book". Nietzsche Girard Mimetism. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
- Wang H, Wang G, Li Q, Shu C, Jiang M, Guo Y (2006). "Prevalence of Toxoplasma infection in first-episode schizophrenia and comparison between Toxoplasma-seropositive and Toxoplasma-seronegative schizophrenia". Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 114 (1): 40–8. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.2006.00780.x. PMID 16774660. S2CID 39025217.
- Torrey EF, Yolken RH (2003). "Toxoplasma gondii and Schizophrenia". Emerging Infect. Dis. 9 (11): 1375–80. doi:10.3201/eid0911.030143. PMC 3035534. PMID 14725265.free full text
- Flegr, Jaroslav (January 2007). "Effects of Toxoplasma on Human Behavior". Schizophrenia Bulletin. 33 (3): 757–760. doi:10.1093/schbul/sbl074. PMC 2526142. PMID 17218612.
- Leake, Jonathan (23 June 2005). "Dangerrrr: cats could alter your personality". The Times – via libertypost.org.
- Fitzgerald, Michael (September 2002). "Louis Wain and Asperger's Syndrome". Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine. 19 (3): 101. doi:10.1017/S0790966700007217. PMID 30440240.
- McGennis, Aidan (March 1999). "Louis Wain: his life, his art and his mental illness". Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine. 16 (1): 27. doi:10.1017/S0790966700005000.
- Bell, Vaughan (26 September 2007). "The false progression of Louis Wain". Mind Hacks. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
- David O'Flynn, Psychiatrist (1 December 2012). Gallery talk: Kaleidoscope Cats: A Clinical Perspective on Louis Wain (Initial title) OR Two Men and Eight Cats: Louis Wain, Walter Maclay and the Kaleidoscope Cats (video). Introduced by Victoria Northwood, Head of Archives and Museum. Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum: You-Tube. Retrieved 10 November 2018.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
- Allderidge, Patricia (2000). The Cats of Louis Wain. Paris: Bibliothèque de l'Image. ISBN 2-909808-91-2.
- Booth, Christine; Lund, Brian (2003). Louis Wain: A Picture Postcard Checklist. Reflections of a Bygone Age. ISBN 1-900138-78-6.
- Dale, Rodney (1968). Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats. William Kimber. ISBN 1-85479-098-6.
- Latimer, Heather (1982). Louis Wain - King of the Cat Artists. Papyrus Publishers. ISBN 978-0-943698-00-7.
- Latimer, Heather (2002). The English Cat Artist - Louis Wain. Papyrus Publishers. ISBN 0-943698-27-8.
- Sauer, Walter (2008). Der Katzen-Struwwelpeter (in German). Neckarsteinach: Edition Tintenfaß. ISBN 978-3-937467-47-4.
- Vincent, Adrian (1989). 100 Years of Traditional British Painting. London: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-9446-0.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Louis Wain.|
- Original Louis Wain artwork
- Extended Louis Wain Biography
- Louis Wain's Kitten Book
- on YouTube
- Other pictures
- Article on Wain's postcards on Collector Cafe
- Cats Painted in the Progression of Psychosis of Louis Wain
- Works by Louis Wain at Project Gutenberg
- Louis Wain at Find a Grave
- Works by or about Louis Wain at Internet Archive