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Louis Wain’s Life 1860-1939 & Cats

| December 30, 2011

Louis Wain was born in London’s Clerkenwell district in 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 Foundation, Hackney, and at St Joseph’s Academy, Kennington. He trained at the West London School of Art (1877-80), remaining there as an assistant teacher until 1882. From his father’s death in 1880, he had to support first his mother and five younger Sisters.

He married his youngest sister’s governess, Emily Richardson, which was considered quite scandalous at the time. His wife contracted breast cancer and died three years later. To entertain her on her sickbed, Louis Wain started drawing their cat, Peter. Emily encouraged him to send these drawings to newspapers and magazines, and soon the Louis Wain cat was a household name, not only in Britain but also in America, where his comics and drawings of cats appeared in several newspapers.

Louis Wain was elected as President of the National Cat Club and wrote the book ‘In Animal Land with Louis Wain’ in 1904.

In 1906 he linked up with a local pottery and had produced various types of pottery in the form of his Funnycats. He decided to send them to America where he was hoping to make his fortune but alas, the ship they were on sank and he lost his whole cargo. After this disaster Louis Wain continued drawing cats for newspapers and children’s books, however, he was not a good businessman, and in 1907 he was 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 Newspaper(1907-10).

When he returned to England he experimented with animation and in 1917, in a film to be called Pussyfoot he again put lots of his money into the project but alas, he ran out of money and couldn’t proceed with the project. In the same year his sister caroline died and the first signs of his mental illness started to appear (He was seen talking to Cats and Animals).

He continued to sell his Funny Cats Artwork to his adoring public until he fell victim to schizophrenia in 1923 at the age of 57 ( His sisters always reckoned that his Mental problems started after he fell off a London Omnibus and hit his head in 1917 ) .

His decline started during WWI and the public’s dwindling interest in cats, Louis Wain soon fell into poverty and eventually, in June 1924, he was certified insane and committed to Springfield Hospital (the former Surrey County Asylum) at Tooting. ‘Discovered’ here the following year, he was transferred to Bethlem Hospital after a campaign by admirers of his work, including the Prime Minister Ramsey Macdonald,King George V and H.G.Wells. The Hospital was at that time at St George’s Fields, Southwark. In 1930 Louis Wain was transferred to Napsbury Hospital , near St Albans .

He continued drawing until near the end of his life, and exhibitions of his work were held in London in 1931 and 1937. He died at Napsbury on 4 July 1939.

Louis Wain was buried in the same Grave as his mother,father and 5 sisters at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery,Harrow Road,London in July 1939.

At my website I have over 100 of his works on display and so please enjoy your fun visit:**

Author Paul Hussey

Category: Feline Resources

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