Saturday, August 11, 2012

Louis Wain's cat art

Every once in a while I bop over to Abe Books' feature archives for some book curiosities, collectibles, and general lore. Today, in an entry on collectible children's books, I came a person unknown to me, British artist Louis Wain. He began drawing cats to amuse his sick wife, and then the floodgates opened. He eventually illustrated about ~100  children's books, and his work appeared widely in papers, journals, and magazines (including the Louis Wain Annual, from 1901 to 1915). As time went by, he began exhibiting signs of schizophrenia (possibly precipitated by toxoplasmosis), whereupon his art took on qualities prefiguring the psychedelia of the '60s. I sure would like to get a hold of his Cat Alphabet!

OD'd on catnip at Woodstock
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  1. I want all of these blown up and taped where I can see them always. I'm not even a cat person!

    Comparably amazing - one time at The Book Thing,
    I came across a book that had animated pictures of cats portraying comical responses to menopause.
    The book was titled Menopaws!
    The images were very similar personifications of cats.

  2. The pictures recall to mind the poem of Christopher Smart to his cat.
    In fact, the lines make good captions:
    1-)"For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery,"
    2-) "For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly."
    3-) "For he can tread to all the measures upon the music,"
    4-) "For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive,"
    5-) "For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation,"
    6-) "For when his day's work is done, his business more properly begins."
    7-) "For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped,"
    8-) "For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature,"
    9-) "For his ears are so acute that they sting again."
    10-) "For the English cats are the best in Europe."
    11-) "For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes,"
    12-) "For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire."
    13-) "For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from Heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast."
    14-) "For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger."

    1. I totally agree. These are astonishing!

  3. Of Christopher Smart and Louis Wain the same may be said: "Great wits are near to madness near allied, and thin partitions do their bounds divide."--Dryden.
    But I prefer H. G. Wells's quote, which I found on Wikipedia: English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves."
    Thanks for the new discovery of an old delight.

    1. Whoops..that's "sure to madness", and a new pair of glasses do I need!

  4. Ha! I love the geisha kitties!!

  5. I love cats so much! Ive reeally been considering adopting a kitten and these pictures just make me wanna go and do it right now!

  6. There is enough cat hating out there already, please everyone
    stop spreading these stupid stories about cats, toxiplasmosis
    and schizoprenia!

  7. So glad to find this reference to Louis Wain and the cat drawings, etc. I'd forgotten them until I saw this. I admire them, and even have a copy of a drawing from a vendor I found on eBay ..... Yes, I'm a cat lover, so there. Was going to select a profile Anonymous, but seeing the post above mine -- at Feb 3, 2013 so derogatory -- will choose a real profile, I'm not ashamed. Today is February 2, 2014 -- and Happy Chinese New Year, too.

  8. would be surprised if cats could actually CAUSE schizophrenia.

  9. Wain rarely dated his work, but that didn't stop an ambitious young psychiatrist Walter Maclay (who found the psychedelic cat paintings in a junk shop) from declaring that they must have been painted towards the end of Wain's life, purely because this supported his own theories about schizophrenia. Truth be told, Wain liked experimenting with different styles and it's more likely that he had Asperger's Syndrome rather than schizophrenia - which would explain the heightened sense of detail. I'm a huge fan of Wain, so it's lovely to come across blogs like this celebrating his talent.

  10. I've been having such a good time at the Wain-cat site. It's my first time at the Daily Glean and it seems to be waning?? But I agree with all the cat comments, which is very rare for me these days with all the insults, etc. I too will think of Printing some of these images for lifting my spirits. Nina Morzenti