Monday, July 4, 2011

Louis Wain (1860-1939)

Louis Wain was the man who drew cats. Thousands upon thousands of them, usually anthropomorphized and engaged in human activities. He was over a century ahead of his time, as he would have been right at home in this age of lolcats. Initially he stared drawing them to amuse his wife when she was dying of cancer. He turned this into a career, and his cats appeared in hundreds of magazines, on greeting cards and postcards, in comic strips and children's books.

After a few decades of this, his popularity waned. He began to develop behavior that is typically described as schizophrenia: delusions, paranoia, violence. (Some theorize that his schizophrenia was a result of toxoplasmosis, a cat disease.) He rearranged the furniture, wandered the nighttime streets, and claimed that watching movies stole the electricity from his sisters' brains. He was institutionalized in 1924. Celebrity admirers like H.G. Wells ("English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.") insured that he was placed in a better hospital, where he could live and draw and paint the next decade and a half in comfort, surrounded by gardens and cats. His increasingly bizarre work during these years is often cited as an example of artistic evidence of a schizophrenic decline. Dissenters point out that there's no solid evidence that Wain didn't suffer from something other than schizophrenia and that his later work, whose chronological order isn't definitively established, may be artistic exploration or simply show the influence of fancy wallpaper patters. Wain died on July 4, 1939.


  1. Such cute kittens on that page, I hope they don't get toxoplasmosis!

  2. "his popularity waned"– I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.