Louis Wain.


Fidy Says
10th September 2007

Louis Wain.

posted in Cats in art |

 Louis Wain was born in London in 1860. He was the eldest of 6 children, and the only boy. Sadly he suffered from a harelip which meant he was teased and bullied at school, as a result of which he often played truant. Maybe that’s what drew him to animals.

Following his father’s death in 1880, he was left to support his mother and 5 younger sisters. He was only 20 years old. He was working as a teacher at the time but soon quit this job to become a freelance artist, specialising in pictures of animals.

Three years later he married his younger sister’s governess, who was 10 years older than himself, but sadly she died of cancer in 1883.

During her illness he had drawn pictures of their cat, Peter, to entertain her, and it was she who had convinced him to submit one of his drawings, “A Kitten’s Christmas Party”, to the Illustrated London News. Readers promptly flooded the paper with requests for more of his drawings.


Despite his popularity, Wain suffered financial difficulty throughout his life. He remained responsible for supporting his mother and sisters, and had little business sense. He would be amazed to see the value now placed upon his work.

Wain’s love of cats grew to a passion following his wife’s death, but gradually grew into obsession as the years went by. Eventually, in 1924, when his sisters could no longer cope with him, he was certified insane and committed to Springfield Mental Hospital. His mental decline can be seen in his work. The early pictures that brought him fame were naturalistic, capturing cats in everyday moments. Then came the fantasy prints, anthropomorphizing cats in a human guise. And his last artistic phase, gripped with madness, portrayed cats in a cartoonish kaleidoscope of colours.

Lost now in obscurity, the rescuer of cats was finally rescued himself by a group of his old admirers, including Princess Alexandra and H.G. Wells. They pooled their resources and arranged for him to go to a private hospital where he lived for the remainder of his life, drawing happily until his death in 1939.
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 highly collectable but care is needed as forgeries are common.

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