Sunday, 22 March 2009

To continue cat's topic: Louis Wein and his Cats!


Louis William Wain was born in the London district of Clerkenwell in London on 5th. August 1860. In his early years he was a sickly child and often skipped school. He attended his early schooling at The Orchard Street Foundation school in Hackney and at The Saint Joseph's Academy, Kennington.

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 ( 1877-1882 ) and remained as an assistant teacher until he left in 1882.

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 humourous situations and poses. To help to support his family he became 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 Dog drawings at various Dog Shows including the early British National Dog show at Crystal Palance in 1882 ( which later became kown as Crufts ). During this time his wife encouraged him to send some of the humourous cat pictures of Peter to various Magazines and Newspapers which started to make his reputation here in Britain and in America and where his humourous cat pictures were seen in Comics, newspapers and magazines.

In 1884 he was commisioned 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 and his illness - schizophrenia begun to progress.

Wain allows us a unique insight into the delusions and course of illness in a late onset schizophrenic. Wain’s early work, while strange to some, is dominated by fanciful imagery of cats dressed in human clothes or engaged in human activity. Considering that much of his work was political cartooning and illustrating for children’s books, the early work seems an adequate representation of his pre-schizophrenic period. During the onset of his disease at 57, Wain continued to paint, draw and sketch cats, but the focus changed from fanciful situations, to focus on the cats themselves. Characteristic changes in the art began to occur, changes common to schizophrenic artists. Jagged lines of bright color began emanating from his feline subjects. Soon the cats became abstracted, seeming now to be made up of hundreds of small repetitive shapes, coming together in a clashing jangles of color. The abstraction continued, the cats now being seen as made up by small repeating patterns, almost fractal in nature. Until finally they ceased to resemble cats at all, and became the ultimate abstraction, an indistinct form made up by near symmetrical repeating patterns.

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