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Louis Wain and cats: the art seen through schizophrenia

Louis Wain and cats: the art seen through schizophrenia

January 25, 2022

The writer H. G. Wells he once said that cats from England that do not look like cats painted by Louis Wain , they are ashamed of themselves.

It was not for less: Louis Wain was one of the most reputed artists of the Victorian era, and everyone knew and adored their funny representations of cats that acted and expressed themselves as human beings .

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Louis Wain: journey towards the work of an artist obsessed with cats

However, Wain has not gone down in history simply because he is a good painter. It is also one of the classic examples used to show how people change schizophrenia, a mental illness that could have been reflected pictorially in the development of their latest paintings.


Your fondness for cats

Louis Wain liked to draw animals since he was young. I never lost the opportunity to create representations of the living beings I saw and the bucolic scenes in which they were involved. However, it was when his wife fell ill with cancer when he began to draw what would characterize his work. Cats

Specifically, cats adopting attitudes and activities of human beings. At first, yes, timidly: the cats that painted at this stage have the anatomical characteristics of normal cats, but try to adapt your body to human tasks, such as reading the newspaper or smoking. Wain drew these cats to animate his wife in his last years of life, and for that he resorted to portraying his cat Peter in somewhat ridiculous situations.


Louis Wain he began to draw and paint clearly anthropomorphic cats shortly after his 30th birthday . In these images, of marked comic tone, the cats were a means by which their creator caricatured the English society of the time: cats waving, smoking, organizing parties with drinks, playing golf ... In fact, Wain I used to go to crowded places, like squares or restaurants, and I would portray the people I saw as if they were felines that acted just like the people I was watching.

Almost everything that Louis Wain drew had a character so funny that the painter did not change his style almost anything when he had to illustrate some children's books, also using the figure of anthropomorphic animals.


The stage of decadence

Louis Wain was famous and admired throughout England, but it was not much less rich . In fact, he profited scarcely with his own work, since sometimes he worked practically for free, and in addition he destined part of the money to support his family. Soon he began to have so many economic problems that he had to emigrate to the United States, where he became even poorer.

The situation was complicated when Wain began to show symptoms of mental pathology. While the development of psychiatry at the beginning of the 20th century does not allow us to know much about the mental illness of the painter, today it is believed that Louis Wain developed schizophrenia , although some researchers indicate that it is more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

His internment in a pacemaker

Wain he first entered a psychiatric institution in the mid-1920s , when his behavior had become so erratic and occasionally aggressive that he had difficulty even relating to people in his inner circle. However, this detention center was in such poor condition that several important personalities, including H. G. Wells and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, intervened to be assigned to a better place.

In this way, Louis Wain arrived at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, a place that had a garden and a cheerful colony of cats. He would spend the last 15 years of his life in this place.

Journey towards the abstract

The Louis Wain of Bethlem Royal Hospital was, of course, different from the affable painter who liked to mingle with people and who had been spoiled by every newspaper in the country. But not only had he changed: he had, too, apparently his work .

The dates of his paintings that were made years after his death show a clear pattern in his paintings, which they range from figurative art in which animals appear as people to combinations of very abstract lines and colors and that hardly remember something that exists in our plane of reality. In these paintings appear kaleidoscopic forms, a wide variety of colors and fractal or symmetrical motifs.They look like paintings from another planet, or based on the mythological folklore of some Asian culture.

A pictorial work that teaches us the reality of people suffering from schizophrenia

That is why the work of Louis Wain is used many times as an example of how the way of perceiving reality progresses in some people with schizophrenia.

However, and if it is true that these abstract paintings correspond exclusively to the time when schizophrenia had limited much of Wain's abilities, we can also take this story as an example of self-improvement . Art can also be a testament to the creative impulse of people, and although the paintings of the English painter could vary incredibly to appeal to logics and rules of representation that only he understood, they are still evidence of a sharp artistic genius that continued to develop even in the harshest conditions.


Louis Wain before and after schizophrenia (January 2022).


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