Saturday, January 21, 2012

Louis Wain (5 August 1860 – 4 July 1939)

The British artist Louis Wain was a highly successful illustrator whose reputation was made on his singular and gently humorous pictures of cats. A cat-lover himself and sometime President of The National Cat Club, Wain claimed in an interview in 1896 that his "fanciful cat creations" were first suggested to him by Peter, his black & white cat. Demand for Wain's work diminished in the decade after the outbreak of the First World War, leaving him progressively impoverished. He began to show signs of mental disorder, including becoming aggressive,babusive and sometimes violent.
In 1924 he was certified insane and placed in the paupers' ward of Springfield Hospital at Tooting. Despite his delusional state, Wain continued to draw and paint, which led a year later to him being recognised by one of the hospital guardians and transferred to a private roomat the Royal Bethlem Hospital in Southwark, with money raised through public appeal.
In Bethlem he was allowed to draw as much as he liked, and it was here that he produced the first of his facinating series of "kaleidoscope" cats. These ranged from relatively straightforward renderings of the cat itself, though painted in intense, non-naturalistic colour and surrounded by intricate geometric patterns which deny any illusion of spatial depth, to images in which the figure of the cat is exploded in a burst of geometric fragments, the like of which are not to be found in any of Wain's work before his illness. In 1930he was moved to Napsbury in Hertfordshire, where he continued to work sporadically until his death in 1939.

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From this point, Wain's popularity began to decline. He returned from New York broke, and his mother had died of Spanish Influenza while he was abroad. His mental instability also began around this time, and increased gradually over the years. He had always been considered quite charming, but odd, and often had difficulty in distinguishing between fact and fantasy. Others frequently found him incomprehensible, due to his way of speaking tangentially. His behaviour and personality changed, and he began to suffer from delusions, with the onset of schizophrenia. Whereas he had been a mild-mannered and trusting man, he became hostile and suspicious, particularly towards his sisters. He claimed that the flickering of the cinema screen had robbed the electricity from their brains. He began wandering the streets at night, rearranging furniture within the house, and spent long periods locked in his room, writing incoherently.
Some speculate that the onset of Wain's schizophrenia was precipitated by toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be contracted from cats. 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.[3][4][5][6]
When his sisters could no longer cope with his erratic and occasionally violent behavior, he was finally committed, in 1924, to a pauper ward of Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting. A year later, he was discovered there and his circumstances were widely publicized, leading to appeals from such figures as H. G. Wells and the personal intervention of the Prime Minister. 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. This hospital was relatively pleasant, with a garden and colony of cats, and he spent his final 15 years there in peace. While he became increasingly 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 remained the same.

Dr. Michael Fitzgerald disputes the claim of schizophrenia, indicating Wain more than likely had Asperger's Syndrome (AS). Of particular note, Fitzgerald indicates that while Wain's art took on a more abstract nature as he grew older, his technique and skill as a painter did not diminish, as one would expect from a schizophrenic.[7] Moreover, elements of visual agnosia are demonstrated in his painting, a key element in some cases of AS. If Wain had visual agnosia, it might have manifested itself merely as an extreme attention to detail.[8]
A series of five of his paintings is commonly used as an example in psychology textbooks to putatively show the change in his style as his psychological condition deteriorated. However, it is not known if these works were created in the order usually presented, as Wain did not date them. Rodney Dale, author of Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, has criticised the belief that the five paintings can be used as an example of Wain's deteriorating mental health, writing: "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."[9]
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 collectible but care is needed as forgeries are common.

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Louis Wain was born in the Clerkenwell district in London and became an artist, selling his sketches of dog shows to the Illustrated Sporting News. He married his youngest sister's governess, Emily Richardson, which caused quite a scandal. Unfortunately, his wife fell ill with breast cancer and died three years later. To entertain her on her sickbed, Louis Wain started drawing their cat, Peter.

Emily encouraged him to send these drawings to newspapers and magazines, and soon the Louis Wain cat was a household name, not only in Britain but also in America, where his comics and drawings of cats appeared in several newspapers. Louis Wain was elected as President of the National Cat Club and wrote the book 'In Animal Land with Louis Wain' in 1904.

After the First World War, the public's interest in cats diminished, and Wain reached a personal crisis, falling into poverty and being affected by schizophrenia when he was 57 years old. In 1924, he was certified insane and admitted to the pauper's wing of a mental hospital in Tooting.

Years later, he was recognized and a fund was set up for him (by prominents such as H.G. Wells), enabling Louis Wain to spent his last years, until his death in 1939, in comfortable asylums in Southwark and Napsbury, where he continued to draw and paint cats.

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Among other things, the British artist Louis Wain (1860-1939) painted cats. Although he had formally studied at the West London School of Art and specialized in animal paintings and nature scenes, the cat paintings which would eventually define him began to spring from his brush soon after his marriage in 1883 – his wife was diagnosed with cancer soon after their nuptials, and during the period of illness, she being much comforted by cats, he began to paint cats for her in a comic and anthropomorphic style, until the time of her death, only three years after their marriage.

He continued painting cats after her death, but as the years progressed, his “style” began to change, even as his normally gentle personality transformed into a hostile and paranoid one. This was around the year 1907, and given his age at this time (47), as well as the fact that he seemed to have become profoundly mentally ill at this time, it is widely supposed that he must have been the victim of an atypical, late-onset schizophrenia (schizophrenia usually develops in the late teens and early twenties). Due his close association with cats and a probable infection with toxoplasmosis, which can be acquired from cat feces, a link between toxoplasmosis and schizophrenia has been suggested, but no definitive link has been established, to date. Other authorities have disputed that he had schizophrenia at all, because a diminishment of style often results in artists who develop the disease, and Wain’s art, while increasingly bizarre in appearance, retained its technically competent character.

Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism – has been suggested, and this would help explain a certain “eccentricity” and oddness of manner and speech he had possessed much of his life.

Whatever the case, as Wain’s “illness” progressed, his paintings became increasingly bizarre and abstracted in appearance, to the point where they were almost frightening, and often not even recognizable as cats. His work is commonly shown as a progression, to illustrate the changes, as I have done below.

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Justin Life Sketchbook Drawings said...

Thanks for the images, interesting artist.

Tim Razo said...

Hey Justin no problem. One of my favorites.

Unknown said...

oblique is a spacial illusion all you have to do is look at a map?