Explore the Life and Cat Art of Louis Wain

A Louis Wain illustration of cats singing carols Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

See Louis Wain’s Exuberant Cat Art at the Hospital Where He Spent His Later Years

by Brigit Katz/Smithsonianmag.com

In 1886, a little-known artist named Louis Wain contributed a rollicking illustration of festive cats to the Christmas edition of the Illustrated London News, a prominent weekly paper. Titled “A Kitten’s Christmas Party,” the drawing featured nearly 200 felines reveling in holiday festivities: They make speeches, play games and indulge in boozy punch. The Victorian public, which had only recently begun to view cats as cute pets rather than feral pests, was enthralled. Wain went on to become a popular commercial artist best known for his humorous, endearing depictions of wide-eyed cats engaging in an array of human antics.

Throughout his life, Wain was regarded as an eccentric character. But his behavior eventually became disconcertingly erratic, and in 1924, he was certified “insane” and committed to an asylum. Now, reports Brian Boucher for Artnet News, the Bethlem Royal Hospital in southeast England, where Wain lived until 1930, has mounted an exhibition of his cat art, timed to coincide with the United Kingdom release of The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, a recent biopic featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as the feline-loving artist. (Readers in the United States can stream the film on Amazon Prime Video.)

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