Louis William Wayne is one of the most popular artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, famous for his depictions of humanoid cats. He is sometimes called the greatest fairy tale illustrator of the Victorian era.
Louis Wain’s illustrations became hugely popular in the late 1880s. He portrayed cats in “human” situations, such as playing cards and golf, fencing or playing on the beach.
Louis William was the first of six children and the only son of his parents. None of his five sisters married, and the youngest at the age of 30 was declared insane and ended up in a mental hospital (later the artist himself repeated her fate). The rest spent their whole lives with their mother.
He realized at a fairly early age his passion for drawing and in 1877 entered the West London School of Art. After graduating from the course, Wayne taught there for two years, but at the age of 20 – after the death of his father – he was forced to leave a low-paid job and take care of his mother and sisters.
The world of cats of the mentally ill artist.
At the age of 23, Wayne married his sisters’ governess, Emily Richardson, who was ten years his senior, an age difference that was considered outrageous at the time. Emily soon developed an incurable disease and died just three years after her marriage. It was then that the artist found a theme that defined his entire career.
During his illness, his wife found solace in a pet cat named Peter, and to keep her entertained, Wayne taught the animal tricks, such as wearing glasses and sitting still in front of a book, as if reading. In parallel, he began to make many sketches of a large black and white cat, about which he later wrote: “Actually, thanks to him, I laid the foundations of my career, began to develop and strengthen my creativity.” Peter can be found in many of Wayne’s early works.
In the mature period of creativity, Wayne’s cats “turned” into people – they stood on their hind legs, began to smile and wear ordinary “human” clothes. They played music, fished, played tennis, drank tea, went to school and played with dolls. Such anthropomorphic depictions of animals were very popular in Victorian England.
Louis Wayne was a prolific artist, sometimes producing several hundred drawings a year.
In 1898 and 1911, Wayne was chairman of the National Cat Club, as well as a member of several other charities, such as the Governing Council of the League of Our Silent Friends and the Anti-Vivisection Society. He said he was helping to “eradicate the contempt for cats” in England.
According to contemporaries, Wayne loved cats so much that one day, when he saw a cat crossing the road and a bus rushing towards it, he deftly jumped into the bus and turned the steering wheel in the other direction. Waking up in the hospital, the first thing he asked about the condition of the cat.
With age, Louis Wayne began to gradually change. From a gentle and trusting person, he gradually turned into a hostile and cruel person, especially towards his sisters. The artist began to wander the streets at night, rearrange the furniture in the house and lock himself in his room for a long time, writing incoherent texts.
In 1924, Wayne unfortunately shared the fate of his younger sister and was committed to the Springfield Lunatic Asylum, where conditions are described as “beggarly”. A year later, journalists discovered his whereabouts and, thanks to the hype in the press, as well as the intervention of the writer HG Wells and other famous people, including the Prime Minister, the illustrator was transferred to the famous Bethlem Clinic (Bedlam), and then to a more comfortable institution in Hertfordshire with a beautiful garden . There he spent his remaining years drawing cats from a local cattery. His works of that period are characterized by bright colors and an abundance of floral motifs.