Louis Wain, the cat painter

GENERAL Javier López Iglesias (Google translation)

Louis William Wain (London, 1860 – St. Albans, 1939) was a painter whose life and work were disconcerting. This is reflected in Mr. Wain , the feature film by Will Sharpe starring Benedict Cumberbatch, who once again leaves an impeccable performance on the screen. This time he becomes the artist and inventor who fluctuated between an oppressive family and a mental disorder that did not prevent him from becoming a brilliant reference when it comes to reflecting the world of cats in painting.
After confessing his admiration for the person who is the subject of his film, “I have tried to be faithful to what really happened”, Will Sharpe points out: “At the time Wain lived, mental illness was not understood as it is today. At the time he was diagnosed with schizophrenia but advances in science have forced him to reconsider that diagnosis and today it is believed that he actually suffered from Asperger's syndrome or bipolar disorder. I myself have struggled with mental illness in the past and that personal experience has made me understand from another perspective the thoughts that Wain transmitted in his diaries throughout his eventful life ”.  

England, 1888. Louis Wain is an unlikely artist and ingenious inventor whose work attracts the leading publications of the day. His existence is not easy at all as he is forced to combine his creativity with the care and support of his five sisters and his mother.

Dodging difficulties and economic hardships as best he can, two events will change his future: meeting Emily, his sisters' governess, whom he married and was the love of his life; and adopt Peter, the cat who will inspire a substantial part of his art, the one that has made him an appreciated artist.  

Set with care and sensitivity, the cinematic outcome of this passionate story clearly benefits from the work of cinematographer Erik Alexander Wilson ( Paddington ), Oscar-winning costume designer Michael O'Connor ( The Duchess , Jane Eyre ), and head producer Suzie Davies ( Mr. Turner , The English Spy ). But, above all, Mr. Wain grows in the eyes of the viewer thanks to the performances, especially that of an endearing Cumberbatch who is accompanied, also more than convincing, by Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Sofía Di Martino and Stacy. Martin.

“The story of this artist is incredible, says the director. I have tried to capture the world through his eyes. Despite the randomness of his existence, Wain was a cheerful person with a great sense of humor. His works are charged with a very powerful emotion that focuses on the world of cats, although he also painted landscapes that are less known but very exciting. Throughout the entire project we have tried to capture his essence and be faithful to the struggles he had in his life and to that message of hope that he transmitted through his works until the end of his days”.  

Louis William Wain was the firstborn, and only son, of a wealthy London family who, after the death of his father, lived continuously harassed by debt. He had five single sisters who conditioned the artist's life as he was the only one in the house who generated the income with which they subsisted.

Born with a cleft lip, on medical advice he did not attend school until he was ten years old. When he was already enrolled he was a student who continually slipped away and preferred to wander around London making small drawings of what he saw. Later he entered the West London School of Art, an institution where he would become a teacher, a position that, given his unpredictable character, he would soon leave to become a freelance artist specializing in animal portraits and country scenes. .

His work soon gained attention, landing him work in prestigious magazines of the day, including the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News and the Illustrated London News .  

Despite the opposition of his family and breaking the established rules, at the age of 23 he married Emily Richardson, 10 years older than him, and moved with her to Hampstead, in north London. At the age of three, Emily fell ill with breast cancer and died, which would plunge the artist into a long period of desolation.

In the final part of his wife's illness, the artist would discover the theme that would define his career, as she was comforted by Peter, a cat that they had both rescued on the street one rainy night.

Peter's presence encouraged the convalescent and Louis, to distract her, began to draw sketches of the pet in funny poses, works that she made him promise to publish. Emily passed away before this happened, but fate had already decided that this animal would mark the future of the artist and, in fact, the black and white fur of that kitten is recognizable in many of his early works.

In 1886, Wain published his first work on humanized cats in the Christmas edition of the Illustrated London News . At that time, cats still appeared on all fours, but in the following years they stood up and began to walk on two legs, smile, show very striking facial expressions and wear human clothing. Wain's illustrations depicted animals playing musical instruments, drinking tea, playing cards, fishing, smoking, enjoying a concert at the opera, or chatting amiably in front of a cozy fireplace.

Those portraits became very popular in Victorian England. For the next three decades, Wain worked tirelessly. He illustrated more than a hundred children's books, postcards, posters... his work appeared in magazines, journals and newspapers, including the Louis Wain Annual published from 1901 to 1915, becoming president of the National Cat Club between 1898 and 1911.

Despite his popularity, Wain suffered from serious financial difficulties throughout his life. Naïve, easily deceived, and ill-equipped to deal in the complex world of publishing, he often sold his drawings directly, without asking for rights to their reproduction.

Con el tiempo su carácter se fue ensombreciendo. Inicialmente fue diagnosticado de esquizofrenia y aunque ese dictamen hoy está muy cuestionado, su obra es a menudo presentada como ejemplo de cómo el padecimiento mental afecta a la percepción.

In 1924 he was committed to a section for indigents of the Springfield mental hospital. A year later his situation became known, which caused the intervention in his defense of the writer HG Wells and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who managed to transfer him to Bethlem Royal Hospital and, in 1930, to Napsbury Hospital near St. Albans, north of London. Napsbury was a pleasant institution in whose large garden a colony of cats roamed. Wain would continue to draw them until his death on July 4, 1939. The artist would be buried in the family vault at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green, London.

Currently his extensive work is highly valued by collectors and museums and is frequently the subject of forgery. In addition to paintings and drawings, Louis Wain also created ceramic pieces.