An Introduction to Louis Wain
Louis Wain (1860-1939) was an English artist who was most famous for his drawings of cats. Although he was a household name at the turn of the century, his reputation subsequently diminished after his death until the late sixties when Rodney Dale's Louis Wain: The Man who Drew Cats was published. Since then, there has been some interest in Wain's art but not nearly to the extent that it deserves.
According to Dale, this was the information that was easily available on Wain when he started the research for his book:
He was born in 1860 and started to draw cats in his early twenties. By the turn of the century, his was a household name, for he had created the Louis Wain Cat, a special type of mischievous feline which found universal acclaim. But he was obsessed with drawing cats, and when the demand for them eventually diminished, he was not able to come to terms with the situation. He had heavy family commitments, but no one would buy his workhis only means of making a living. His mind failed and he was admitted in poverty to a mental hospital. After a time, he was "discovered" there, and a number of influential people set up a fund to enable him to spend the rest of his days in comfort. He died in 1939.
Of course, the above does not do justice to the tragic yet fascinating life of Louis Wain which was the reason that Dale wrote his book. It is essential reading for all Wainophiles.
Since Wain's death, the two main groups interested in his works are cat lovers and those interested in the art of schizophrenics. Wain is especially fascinating to those who study the art of the mentally ill because he had one main subject, cats, and there are examples of his art from both before and during his illness.
It would be sad, though, if he were merely treated as a curiositya popular artist of novelty cat pictures or a tormented soul worthy only of psychological studysince even his drawings from his time spent in asylums show great genius of both idea and execution.
I hope that these pages provide a chance for both those familiar with Wain's work to gain a greater appreciation of it and for those new to his works an initial exposure that will prompt them to learn more about him.
People often email me about Louis Wain, especially about the value of his works and how to buy prints. If you are going to email me, please read the following first to see if your answers can be found below.
1. I have a print of Wain/postcard/original work by Wain. How much is it worth?
I have no idea. I am not an expert in the value of art works or prints but just a fan of Wain's works. I am not a postcard collector, so I have no idea what postcards should cost. I do know that postcards and prints often cost more in the US than the UK, as they are much more common in the UK.
I can tell you how much I've paid for prints and posters I own or have seen for sale (between £8 and £30, depending on rarity and whether it's contemporary or modern, though I know they can go higher even) and how much I've seen originals go for at the Summer Cat Show (usually 4 digits, in pounds), but I can't tell you how much what you have is worth. You'll need to go to a professional to have a true valuation doneyou could probably get this done at a gallery specializing in illustration in a major city, or at least they'd have more idea who would do this.
The most common print I am asked about is one called "For what we are about to receive" and is an image of a row of cats at a table, praying over their food. I've added a scan of it to the gallery here. According to Rodney Dale, it is one of the most reproduced of Wain's works, which I believe, just based on how often I'm emailed about it. I have a feeling that as it's so common, it wouldn't be worth as much as other prints, but, again, I can't value it for you.
2. Where can I buy Wain prints/posters/merchandise?
The books listed below you should be able to find in bookstores. Although a few are out of print, they can often be found in discount or remaindered bookstores, as that's where I found many of them. The most recent edition of the Rodney Dale biography, Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, is still in print in the UK (hardback and papeperback editions).
As for prints and posters, I've also got some links to various retailers
on my links page. I haven't
ordered anything from these retailers, so I can't tell you what they are
like. It's also relatively easy to find Wain prints in England--I've seen
them at prints stores and cat shows--but they are much harder to find
in the US. I never saw any for sale when I lived in the US, but that doesn't
mean that they aren't out there.
This bibliography mentions books that either feature Louis Wain's art or provide biographical information or critical analysis of his works. If you have any suggestions for books that should be added to the list, please contact me and let me know about them. Thanks.
Allderidge, Patricia. The Cats of Louis Wain. Paris:
Bibliothèque de l'Image, 2000.
Dale, Rodney. Cats in Books. London: The British Library;
New York: Harry N. Abrahms, Inc., Publishers, 1997.
Dale, Rodney. Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats. London:
William Kimber, 1968.
Head, Honor. The Artful Kitten: A Tribute, with 60 Portraits.
Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1993.
Read, Brian. Louis Wain. London: Victoria and Albert
Silvester, John and Anne Mobbs. A Catland Companion: Classic
Cats by Louis Wain & Many Others. New York: Crescent Books, 1991.
Wain, Louis. Catland. Introduced by Rodney Dale. Leicester:
Magma Books, 1995. A reprint, originally published by Duckworth in 1978.
Wain, Louis. Louis Wain's Cats. Compiled and introduced
by Michael Parkin. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1983.
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