Art for Cat People: Louis Wain's Life, Paintings & Schizophrenia
Peter, Louis Wain's Favorite Real-Life Cat
Louis Wain's Cat Art & Schizophrenia
Louis Wain, a modern artist from Britain, first achieved fame for his cheery and anthromorphic cat art. Eventually he also served as an example of how schizophrenia might alter a person's perception or influence their creativity. Wain's art stands out today partly because it reflects his progressive schizophrenia.
I first saw Louis Wain's cat paintings on a poster for schizophrenia medication. When the drug advertisement is removed, this is what remains:
The Evolution of Wain's Art with Schizophrenia
A Louis Wain Landscape Painting
Wain's Early Years
Louis Wain was an English artist born in 1860. Because he had a cleft lip that attracted negative attention, his parents were advised to keep Louis from formal schooling until age 10. He spent his truancy wandering the streets of London but eventually enrolled in the West London School of Art.
Wain's adulthood was rife with beauty and tragedy. After briefly working as a teacher at the London art school, Wain left at age 20 to care for his widowed mother and his younger sisters. He fortunately found quick success as a freelance illustrator for popular magazines. Initially he painted pastoral scenes of English landscapes and livestock.
An Early Wain Cat Painting
The Turn to Cats
Louis Wain's turn to cat art was inspired several years later by his wife Emily when she developed cancer. Emily was especially find of cats. When she fell ill, Wain amused his wife by painting their cat Peter wearing spectacles, reading books and otherwise behaving like a human. He later wrote of Peter, "To him, properly, belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work."
Emily passed away after only three years of marriage when Louis was 26. That year, a collection of 150 Louis Wain cat paintings was published in the Illustrated London News as a special Christmas issue. Peter was prominently featured.
Louis Wain's Mental Breakdown
Louis Wain was especially prolific over the next three decades. He illustrated about 100 children's books and scores of other publications including the Louis Wain Annual, a magazine published from 1901-1915. He briefly lived in New York City and was well-received.
However, by late 1907 he began showing signs of schizophrenia. The condition may have been triggered in part by a series of defeats. One defeat involved a great financial loss: the artists had invested in oil lamps although the light bulb had been invented. Next, he lost his mother. This was likely a major component of his breakdown. Additionally, some people have speculated that toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection spread by cats, might be linked to his mental disease.
By 1924 Wain was telling doctors that he could perceive electromagnetic fields and auras. His perception is shown in the painting to the right.
Around this time, Wain's sisters became unable to care for him at home. He spent his remaining years in hospitals. He regarded the Napsbury Hospital north of London as most pleasant: It had gardens and a colony of cats.
Wain lived at Napsbury for 15 years. He painted cats and floral scenes until his final days.
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