Louis Wain 1860-1939 – Life Story and His Funny Cats and Dogs Art

With reference to his family he had 5 younger sisters and his father worked as a textile salesman and his mother designed Church fabrics and carpets.

Louis Wain studied and trained at The West London School of Art ( 1877- 1880 ) and remained as an assistant teacher until he left in 1882. The strange thing about Louis Wain was he could draw with his left hand but he signed his pictures with his right hand.

After his Father’s death in 1880 he had to support his mother and five younger sisters and soon after, his sick wife Emily Richardson ( His youngest sister’s governess ) whom he had married in 1881. Shortly after he married her she contracted Breast cancer. He brought Emily a Kitten which they called Peter and to entertain her he started drawing Peter in humorous situations and poses. To help to support his family he became a freelance artist (initially influenced by Caldecott and May) and in 1882 he joined the staff of The illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. He began to make his name with Dog drawings at various Dog Shows including the early British National Dog show at Crystal Palace in 1882 ( which later became known as Crufts ). During this time his wife encouraged him to send some of the humorous cat pictures of Peter to various Magazines and Newspapers which started to make his reputation here in Britain and in America and where his humorous cat pictures were seen in Comics, newspapers and magazines.

In 1884 he was commissioned to produce his funny cat pictures in the Christmas edition of the illustrated London news. These pictures were so successful that his life would never be the same again. Alas, this was tinged with sadness as his wife died shortly afterwards, but knowing that Louis Wain had become a great success.

In the period from 1880’s up to the start of the first world war he ruled supreme in cat and animal humor especially the ‘Louis Wain Cat’ which was recognized worldwide. The Louis Wain cats appeared in Art Prints, Comics, Newspapers, Books, Magazines, Post Cards and Annuals. The Wain cats are to be found in every human activity – from playing golf and other sports, digging up roads, Playing music, Ascot fashions, Driving cats plus lots more.

In 1886 he joined the staff of The Illustrated London News. He was the first illustrator to work consistently within the convention of depicting clothed and standing animals. His anthropomorphic vision of the world soon brought him fame and as a result he was elected President of the British National Cat Club in 1891.

In 1904 Louis Wain wrote a book entitled ‘In Animal land with Louis Wain’ which was a great success. During 1907 he invested all his savings into various Ceramic’s with pictures based on his funny cats and sent most of them to America. Alas, while crossing the Atlantic the ship capsized and all Louis Wain ceramics went to the bottom of the sea. Due to this misfortune Louis Wain went bankrupt and decided to a temporary move to the United States. He produced strip cartoons for the New York American ( 1907-1910 ) and many other American comics, newspapers and magazines.

In 1910 he returned to England and over the next few years he continued to produce books and supply pictures to various comics, newspapers and magazines.

He continued drawing fanciful cats for various newspapers and comics near the end of the first world war. During this time in 1917 he was thinking of experimenting in animation and the film was to be called ‘Pussyfoot’. Alas, he decided not to pursue this project and so the world lost the chance of a genius of comic cat art moving into animation. This year was a turning point in the history of Louis Wain’s cats. His sister Caroline died and he fell off an Omnibus and hit his head.

After he recovered from these set backs his cats became more frenzied, surreal, jagged and pointy. During 1917 he was also diagnosed as a schizophrenic which alas, stayed with him for the rest of his life. During the onset of his disease at 57, Wain continued to Paint, Draw and Sketch cats.

In 1924 due to the economic climate and the slow recovery of GB after WW1 Louis Wain Art became less popular and he fell into poverty when his mental health deteriorated and finally his family had him certified Insane and he was committed to a pauper ward at Springfield Hospital ( Previously Surrey County Asylum ) at Tooting, London. During 1925 he was discovered by a visitor to the hospital painting his funny cat pictures. The visitor exclaimed that the artist pictures reminded him of Louis Wain’s famous cats. Imagine his surprise when the Artist turned to the visitor and exclaimed he was indeed Louis Wain. After the visitor told the world of Louis Wain’s hospitalization, his admirers started a campaign which included prime minister Ramsey Macdonald, HG Wells and King George who helped set up a foundation which was set up to enable Wain to spend the last few years of his life in comfort in private asylums including Bethlehem Hospital in a private room where his treatment continued. Some time in the late 1920’s he was sent to Saint James Fields, Southwark where he continued to paint and draw his cats. In 1930 he was transferred to Napsbury Hospital near Saint Albans where he continued to paint and sketch until the end of his days. Exhibitions of his work were held in London in 1931 and 1937. On 4th. July Louis Wain died at Napsbury hospital. He is buried at Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Harrow Road, London NW10 ( next to Kensal Green Cemetery, London ) in the same burial plot as his 5 sisters and parents.

One of the famous quotes during his lifetime was by HG Wells who said ‘He invented a cat style, a cat society and a whole cat world’.