c1905, Where the Good Cats Go To
Louis Wain is well-known primarily as an illustrator who championed both the cat as a subject and a for his unique caricature style of drawing them. His other claim to fame was as the hard-working and some would agree, long-suffering President of the National Cat Club, over which he presided as Chairman of Committee on at least three separate occasions during its early history.
Mr. Wain was born in 1860, and first drew cats in 1883. Although he was 36 years younger than Harrison Weir, both worked as colleagues and were simultaneously engaged as artists for The Illustrated London News and a plethora of other popular late Victorian periodicals. His career as an illustrative artist did not at first begin with caricatures, but with realism, for which he had a natural talent. The below image is one of the writer's favourites by Louis Wain, executed by him at the tender age of 21, and published in the December 10th, 1881 edition of the Christmas Supplement to the Illustrated London News. It very clearly demonstrates his considerable ability at realism and his impressive versatility in style. It also mimics the 'high naturalism' as portrayed by several of his contemporaries, including the naturalist works of Harrison Weir.
When Harrison Weir resigned as Chairman of the Committee of the National Cat Club in 1890, it was into his large shoes that Louis Wain's lot would fall, and one to which he committed himself to willingly and wholeheartedly. He patiently saw the club through numerous trials and tribulations, through the issue of its first Stud Books, published in 1893, and then through the period when the club took over the running of the National Cat Shows from the Crystal Palace Company in 1896.
He then subsequently weathered the long storm associated with the establishment of a rival body in the form of the 'Cat Club' organised by Lady Marcus Beresford and her supporters in 1898, with the two 'national' bodies continuing to compete for dominance over the cat fraternity, until the eventual demise of the 'Cat Club' in 1904.
In the intervening years, his anthropomorphic caricatures of cats and his ability to entertain by portraying them in often awkward or characteristically humourous human situations, had taken him from relative obscurity as an artist, to wide-spread international recognition and fame.
When Our Cats magazine was mooted and began being published in late 1899, he keenly supported the venture and encouraged others to do the same. His caricatures of cats were from time to time featured in the early volumes, especially in the editions published during the festive season.
The Louis Wain's Annual
His Louis Wain's Annual, and other similar works became a social phenomenon and did much to help take the subject of cats into the social mainstream, alongside a new and flourishing interest in the 'cat fancy' generally; which in the pre-WWI era, was spreading and growing rapidly around the globe. His unique and humorous view on human affairs, took on a new life when the humans were replaced by cats, faced with the same day to day dilemmas. These parodies and satires on human behaviour captioned the public imagination and were responsible for his work becoming so universally popular.
Many of these publications, which are all now over 100 years old, have become highly collectible items. They also represent a wonderful commentary on late Victorian and Edwardian social etiquette and history. Being as he was, personally unsettled and burdened with responsibility for his five younger sisters, he seldom stayed with any one publisher for more than two years. Consequently, the formatting and style of his published works changed regularly. But his affiliation and dedication to the cause of the 'Cat', was the one thing in his life which never wavered.
Animal Welfare Interests
Even after the formation of the G.C.C.F. in 1910, Wain continued to work within the Fancy as a respected judge, and with the National Cat Club, serving in the capacity as either President or Chairman of Committee almost continually until 1922.
During that time he was also a Committee member of the Society for the Protection of Cats and the Cats Home, at Gordon House, in Hammersmith until 1909. He served on the Committee of Our Dumb Friends League Receiving Shelter for Stray Cats until 1913, and was listed on the Governing Grand Council of Our Dumb Friends League from 1914 to 1939.
By 1924, his Schizophrenia episodes proved too much for his sisters to cope with, and he was committed to the Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting. A year later, he was transferred to Bethlem Royal Hospital, Southwark, and in 1930 to Napsbury. He continued to paint and draw cats, for the remaining years of his life, returning to his original style as his mood swings subsided with age. He died on July 4th, 1939.
Where the Good Cats Go To
Although this piece is unsigned and undated, it is taken from a leaf in an artists notebook. It was common for artists of the era to carry with them pocketbooks in which they would record drawings and sketches while at liberty. Harrison Weir did the same. It was also customary for fans of writers and artists to send them their personal autograph books and entreat them to donate a comment, autograph or sketch. There are several recorded instances of Wain's generosity in providing one-off spur-of-the-moment sketches as gifts, one in my own collection is from an autograph book, and is signed, dated and notated where drawn. A few of his satirical cartoons, some signed and dated and some not, have similarly been retrieved and preserved in this manner.
Whatever our personal view of Wain's art may be, it cannot be denied that his now famous feline parodies of humankind, brought into clear focus within mainstream human consciousness - the cause of the cat; making it an animal that was both more familiar and more socially acceptable to us, than it had ever been before.
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