The English artist Louis Wain’s (1860-1939), depictions of cats in art during the Victorian era caused their popularity to rise to a height not known since they were first worshipped as the Goddess Bast. Wain was the only boy in a household of five sisters where he remained until the age of 23 when he married his sisters’ governess, Emily Richardson. Sadly, only three years after their marriage, Emily died of breast cancer. Wain’s lifelong devotion to cats perhaps started because of Peter, a black
and white kitten, whom the couple had taken in as a stray. Peter comforted Emily throughout her illness, and Wain taught the cat various tricks to cheer his wife. He began to draw Peter, and Emily encouraged him to try and have the pictures published. Later Wain was to write, “To him, properly, belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work.” (Wikipedia) Over the next 30 years, Wain would produce hundreds of drawings a year, illustrate about a hundred children’s books, and publish in magazines and journals. Unfortunately, Wain had no head for business and endured financial hardships throughout his lifetime.
Wain even found time to be the President and Chairman of the newly founded National Cat Club. He also avidly supported several animal charities such as the Governing Council of Our Dumb Friends League, the Society for the Protection of Cats and the Anti-vivisection Society.
Wain is quoted as saying, “I have found as a result of many years of inquiry and study, that people who keep cats and are in the habit of petting them, do not suffer from those petty ailments which all flesh is heir to. Rheumatism and nervous complaints are uncommon with them, and pussy’s lovers are of the sweetest temperament. I have often felt the benefit after a long spell of metal effort, of having my cats sitting around my shoulders or half an hour’s chat with Peter.” (Van Vechten, 1921, p. 116)
From the early 1900’s, Wain’s mental health began to deteriorate. Most have thought that he had schizophrenia, but some today believe he might have had Asperger’s Syndrome. Throughout the last years of his life his depictions of cats became more and more surreal, kaleidoscopic.
He was eventually committed to a pauper’s mental asylum in 1924. After outcries from HG Wells and the Prime Minister, he was moved to a proper hospital where he lived out the remaining years of his life until 1939. H. G. Wells said of him, “He has made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.”