A cat staring off into the landscape, surrounded by nature.


Louis Wain was a Victorian-era artist whose comical drawings of humanised cats and kittens delighted generations of children and changed public perception of cats in general, helping to find them a place in the modern home. While his commercial work was well-known and loved in his own era, decorating many books, magazines, and childhood ephemera, in the decades since his later and more experimental pieces have been hailed as visionary forerunners of psychedelia and even as the “Mona Lisa of asylum art.”²

Although questions abound about his life, art, and illness, it can be said beyond any doubt that cats were the center of his world. During the war, Tommy Catkins sent his greetings from the front lines; Peter the kitten’s antics brought comfort in times of peace; in later years his doctors received portraits of themselves as cats, and in earlier times he would parody scenes from Victorian society in feline form. From the 1890s to 1939, they formed the core of his constant, prolific output, at first reclining, pouncing and playing as real cats do, but increasingly taking on human elements until eventually the signature Louis Wain cat was created: a creature of whimsy, playful mischief, and at times hallucinatory creativity that populated his personal Catland. While the Victorian attitude towards cats was generally cold, few could resist this frisky respite from the era’s usually sentimental and stiflingly proper artwork, and Wain, once an outsider, found an audience across the country.

In later years, his lifelong eccentricity began taking a turn for the worse, culminating in his hospitalization for the last 15 years of his life. During this period - whether due to mental illness, extreme creativity, or just being freed from the obligation to make commercially successful art - his cats became wild-eyed and manic, dwelling in landscapes of intricate, trippy patterns, at times blending in with them and seeming to break into a new world entirely. Regardless of the origin and inspiration of this later work, it captured the imagination of generations since in much the same way the earlier art did to those of his own era.¹

Two cats surrounded by psychedelic imagery.


Next page

1: Beetles, C. (2011). Louis Wain’s Cats. WorthPress Ltd.

2: Dr David O'Flynn (February 7th, 2013), Louis Wain Exhibition, Bethlem Archive and Museum, SLaM [YouTube]

3: David Tibet & Paul Moody (October 18, 2018) - The Forgotten Artist Who Changed the Way We Look At Cats [Text]

4: A Celebrated Cat Artist. Mr. Louis Wain Chats with “Chums.” (1895, November). Chums, 204.