Continuing on my theme of the connection between art and madness my ears pricked up at the mention of ‘the man who painted cats’ in today’s tutorial (in which we were discussing the Turner Prize and artists’ eccentricity and / or poor mental health). Plus I also like cats.
Louis Wain (1860-1939) was an English artist who was best known for his pictorial drawings of large-eyed cats and kittens. In his later years he suffered from schizophrenia which it is argued can be seen in the development of his works.
Wain’s notorious felines first came out of his efforts to amuse his wife, Emily, as she was dying of breast cancer. Wain would draw their cat, Peter, wearing glasses, pretending to read. This style was developed over the years and eventually Wain’s cats began to walk on their hind feet and wear clothes. They engaged in activities such as smoking, fishing, playing musical instruments, playing golf and having tea parties.
Wain’s popularity grew and his cat pictures were well sought after. However, after some time his popularity faded somewhat and his mental health deteriorated. He was finally admitted to a mental institution. News of his circumstances were publicized by H. G. Wells, who raised money to move Wain to Bethlem, which was a much nicer hospital with a colony of cats, along with Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. There Wain was allowed to continue his art and he carried on drawing and painting cats.
Towards the end of his life, Wain’s cats became more abstract and less cute. His once sweet and whimsical cats began to resemble ghastly, psychedelic, Hindu gods. His cats gained a bit of a post-houmous popularity thanks to the interest in them of musician Nick Cave.
For some reason this discussion makes me think of this video: cat with thumbs.
Dangerous Minds, http://dangerousminds.net/comments/louis_wain_the_man_who_drew_cats [last accessed 3 December 2012]
Outsider Art, http://www.outsiderart.co.uk/wain.htm [last accessed 3 December 2012]
YouTube video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5ruNIIvXo8 [last accessed 3 December 2013]