LOUIS WAIN (1860-1939)

At the turn of the century, Louis Wain became a household name as ‘The Man Who Drew Cats’. His drawings of cats appeared in periodicals and his own annuals and then, increasingly on prints and postcards. read more...

At the turn of the century, Louis Wain became a household name as ‘The Man Who Drew Cats’. His drawings of cats appeared in periodicals and his own annuals and then, increasingly on prints and postcards. While his early work was already distinctive, in a gently humorous way, the onset of schizophrenia gradually transformed his style, making it bright, highly patterned and apparently in keeping with Jazz Age Modernism.

Louis Wain was born in London on 5 August 1860. His father was a textile salesman and his mother designed carpets and church fabrics. A sickly child, he was educated at the Orchard Street Boys and Infant School, South Hackney, and at St Joseph’s Academy, Kennington. He trained at the West London School of Art (1877-80), remaining there as an assistant master until 1882. From his father’s death in 1880, he had to support first his mother and five younger sisters and soon after a sick wife. He supplemented his income by working as a freelance illustrator (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 humorous cat drawings, primarily in the Illustrated London News, the staff of which he joined in 1886. He was the first to work consistently within the convention of depicting clothed and standing animals. His anthropomorphic vision of the world soon brought him much fame and as a result he was elected President of the National Cat Club in 1891. However, he was not a good businessman, and in 1907 he may have been sued for debt. In the same year, he moved to the United States to make a new start, producing strip cartoons for the New York American (1907-10). Back in England, he experimented with animation in 1917, in the films, The Golfing Cat and The Hunter and the Dog. After the death of his sister Caroline in the same year, he began to suffer a mental decline, becoming a schizophrenic, as his work clearly revealed. ‘His cats became frenzied and jagged, sometimes disappearing into kaleidoscopic shapes’ (Frances Spalding). When, in 1925, he was found in the paupers’ ward of Middlesex County Asylum, an appeal was launched on his behalf, and he was transferred to a comfortable room with his paints in the Bethlem Royal Hospital, Southwark. The appeal reached twice the target sum in a month, a sign of the public’s continuing affection. He died in the Middlesex County Asylum, Napsbury, near St Albans, on 4 July 1939.

Nursery RhymesSchoolWild AnimalsFarm Animals
GolfHumour & SatireDogsCats
BirdsMusicHouseworkCrime
Police, Fire & AmbulanceCowsHunting & ShootingIllustrations
THE KING AND PUSS IN BOOTS by LOUIS WAIN

THE KING AND PUSS IN BOOTS

TARRADIDDLUMS
SHORTSIGHTED MISTRESS: OH MARY! WHAT WAS THAT TERRIBLE SMASH? WHAT HAVE YOU BROKEN NOW?
SERVANT: LORE MUM! NOTHING! IT WAS ONLY NEXT DOOR
SHORT SIGHTED MISTRESS: THANK GOODNESS, I WAS MISTAKEN by LOUIS WAIN

TARRADIDDLUMS SHORTSIGHTED MISTRESS: OH MARY! WHAT WAS THAT TERRIBLE SMASH? WHAT HAVE YOU BROKEN NOW? SERVANT: LORE MUM! NOTHING! IT WAS ONLY NEXT DOOR SHORT SIGHTED MISTRESS: THANK GOODNESS, I WAS MISTAKEN

THERE WAS A LITTLE MAN AND HE HAD A LITTLE GUN by LOUIS WAIN

THERE WAS A LITTLE MAN AND HE HAD A LITTLE GUN

ONE EYE ON YOU by LOUIS WAIN

ONE EYE ON YOU

LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST by LOUIS WAIN

LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST

THE CANINE ESTATE by LOUIS WAIN

THE CANINE ESTATE

DOWN TO THE RIVER  by LOUIS WAIN

DOWN TO THE RIVER

TO THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS. THE LAZIEST PLACE ON EARTH  by LOUIS WAIN

TO THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS. THE LAZIEST PLACE ON EARTH

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT A CANARY COULD DO SO MUCH DAMAGE by LOUIS WAIN

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT A CANARY COULD DO SO MUCH DAMAGE

ELIZA, ARE THESE ALL YOUR LAYING?  by LOUIS WAIN

ELIZA, ARE THESE ALL YOUR LAYING?

CALL THAT THING A SOCIAL INTRODUCTION by LOUIS WAIN

CALL THAT THING A SOCIAL INTRODUCTION

THE HYPNOTIC STARE by LOUIS WAIN

THE HYPNOTIC STARE

FATHER AND SON
SEE WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE IN THE LOOKING GLASS, AND YOU LIKE ME by LOUIS WAIN

FATHER AND SON SEE WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE IN THE LOOKING GLASS, AND YOU LIKE ME

POLICEMAN: I'VE CAUGHT YOU AT LAST!
BOY: CAN'T YOU READ THAT NOTICE. KEEP OFF! by LOUIS WAIN

POLICEMAN: I'VE CAUGHT YOU AT LAST! BOY: CAN'T YOU READ THAT NOTICE. KEEP OFF!

GUESS THE STORY
CADDI. A POSITIVE FACT, SIR, I ASSURE YOU! by LOUIS WAIN

GUESS THE STORY CADDI. A POSITIVE FACT, SIR, I ASSURE YOU!

THREE STUDIES OF A PREENING CAT by LOUIS WAIN

THREE STUDIES OF A PREENING CAT

MY WORD!  I DIDN'T THINK WE CATS WERE HALF AS HANDSOME
SCHOOL BOARD INFANTS DRAWINGS OF CATS by LOUIS WAIN

MY WORD! I DIDN'T THINK WE CATS WERE HALF AS HANDSOME SCHOOL BOARD INFANTS DRAWINGS OF CATS

CATS, MICE, BAND AND CHAOS by LOUIS WAIN

CATS, MICE, BAND AND CHAOS

TURNING  BACK TOGETHER by LOUIS WAIN

TURNING BACK TOGETHER

IF I MIGHT I WOULD SEE IN YOUR EYES THE TRUE FORGETMENOT MANTLING YOUR CHEEKS THE PALE BLUSH OF THE WILD ROSE AND SEALING THE LUSCIOUS PERTNESS OF YOUR LIPS THE CRIMSON TINGE OF THE WILD RAGGED ROBIN AND BURNING FROM AFAR, WORSHIP AT YOUR SHRINE. FOR WHAT by LOUIS WAIN

IF I MIGHT I WOULD SEE IN YOUR EYES THE TRUE FORGETMENOT MANTLING YOUR CHEEKS THE PALE BLUSH OF THE WILD ROSE AND SEALING THE LUSCIOUS PERTNESS OF YOUR LIPS THE CRIMSON TINGE OF THE WILD RAGGED ROBIN AND BURNING FROM AFAR, WORSHIP AT YOUR SHRINE. FOR WHAT

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