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Artist Louis Wain's Descent Into Schizophrenia Was Documented Through His Art

by Dharrsheena Raja Segarran 2 months ago in schizophrenia
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Louis Wain chose to draw his hallucinations as a way to confront them. We should pay attention to creations made by people with mental illness for better understanding and compassion towards them

Louis Wain and his drawing 'Holiday Time' Credit: Wikiart

Recently, I came across a TikTok video that showed a few drawings made by mental asylum patients. Intrigued, I researched more and stumbled upon Louis Wain.

Louis Wain was a popular English artist who had a progressive mental decline following the death of his wife, Emily Richardson. He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when he was 57 years old.

He was best known for his anthropomorphic cat illustrations. Following his descent into Schizophrenia, his art began to deviate from his usual style.

His cat drawings began to seem distorted with so many shapes, colours, and patterns. It came to the point where it was impossible to identify the cat in his drawings.

I felt so sad looking at his drawings. A picture is worth a thousand words and the way he was slowly losing his mind could be seen in his drawings.

Let’s take a look at Louis Wain’s life and the progression of his Schizophrenia through his cat drawings.

Louis Wain and his cat, Peter
Credit: BBC News

Louis William Wain was born on 5th August 1860 in Clerkenwell, London, England. His parents were William Matthew Wain and Julie Felicite Boiteux.

He was the eldest of six children and was the only son. He had five sisters (Caroline, Josephine, Marie, Claire, and Felicie) and none of them ever got married.

In 1880, when he was 20 years old, his father passed away, leaving him to support his mother and sisters.

In 1883, when he was 23 years old, he married Emily Richardson. This caused a stir and was considered quite scandalous as she was ten years older than him.

Emily and Peter (a stray kitten they had rescued) were the inspiration for his anthropomorphic cat illustrations.

Louis Wain and Emily adopted a stray Hampstead kitten called Peter who inspired his first cat drawings.
Credit: Courtesy Chris Beetles Gallery, St James's, London

He drew so many sketches of Peter that Emily encouraged him to publish them. Unfortunately, Emily passed away in 1886 before this happened, due to breast cancer.

In 1886, sometime after Emily’s passing, Wain’s first drawing of cats, “A Kittens’ Christmas Party” was published in the Christmas issue of the Illustrated London News.

A Kitten's Christmas Party by Louis Wain
Credit: Simon Hitchman

During this time, the cats he drew remained on all fours and were unclothed. As the years went by, his cats began to walk upright, have facial expressions, and were clothed.

These cats were portrayed serving tea, smoking, fishing, and playing musical instruments. In Victorian England, these kinds of anthropomorphic animals were very popular.

Soon, he became a prolific artist and gained popularity. His work appeared in journals, papers, magazines, and postcards. He even illustrated about a hundred children’s books.

Credit: Simon Hitchman

Unfortunately, Wain was known to be very naïve and he was easily exploited in the publishing world.

This caused him to have a lot of financial issues despite his popularity as he was still supporting his mother and sisters.

In 1901, his sister, Marie was admitted to an asylum upon being declared insane.

Marie passed away in that asylum in 1913 at the age of 46. His remaining sisters lived with their mother for the rest of their lives.

In hindsight, it was speculated that mental illness ran in his family as Wain became a Schizophrenic.

In 1917, when he was 57 years old, he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

This cat, like many painted during this period, is shown with abstract patterns behind it. Psychologists have cited this increased abstraction as symptomatic of Wain having schizophrenia.
Credit: Wikipedia

In 1924, when he was 64 years old, his behavior became very violent to the point his sisters could no longer cope. They committed him to a pauper ward at the Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting.

A year later, his whereabouts were discovered and widely publicized. This caused an instant uproar.

H.G. Wells, an English writer appealed to have Wain transferred to a better place.

Finally, after the personal intervention of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Wain was transferred to Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southpark.

In 1930, when Wain was 70 years old, he was transferred to Napsbury Hospital in Hertfordshire, London.

This was where he was the happiest and most peaceful because there was a beautiful garden with a clowder of cats.

Although he became more delusional by day, his mood swings and outbursts reduced.

In November 1936, Wain had a stroke. Three years later, by May 1939, he was bedridden and unable to speak.

On 4th July 1939, he passed away when he was 79 years old at the Napsbury Hospital.

Here are a few of Louis Wain’s drawings in chronological order portraying his descent into Schizophrenia:

Credit: Meisterdrucke
Credit: Simon Hitchman

Tommy Catkins by Louis Wain
Credit: Simon Hitchman

Credit: Simon Hitchman

Credit: Simon Hitchman

Credit: Simon Hitchman

Credit: Simon Hitchman

Credit: Simon Hitchman

Credit: Simon Hitchman

Credit: Meisterdrucke

Credit: BBC News

Credit: Simon Hitchman

Credit: Wikiart

Credit: Chris Beetles Ltd

Credit: Wikiart

Credit: Chris Beetles Ltd

Credit: Wikiart

Credit: Meisterdrucke

Credit: Meisterdrucke

Credit: Wikiart

Credit: Pinterest

Credit: Mayhem and Muse

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About the author

Dharrsheena Raja Segarran

I'm a Certified Nutritionist 🌱 and these are what I mostly write:
〰️ Fiction (Horror/Thriller)
〰️ Non-Fiction (Nutrition and True Crime)
〰️ Poetry

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Comments (25)

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  • Veronica Coldiron12 days ago

    I connected with this story right away! I find it fascinating what any kind of mental illness can do to an artistic person. My mother was an artist. For many years she painted beautiful landscapes and seascapes, had art shows, etc. She held her last art show six years ago, right before Alzheimer's and Dimentia began to take over. Her paintings became trimmed with ordered borders and inside those borders was utter chaos. I recently posted an article here about mom, called Mom's window. It's like she was looking through a very small window that grew darker every day. This piece you wrote took me back to that and I am grateful to have read this! Thank you so much for sharing! (I may go see if I can find that story and put the link in a reply so you can read it if interested.

  • Cendrine Marrouat2 months ago

    It's incredible how his style changed! You did a wonderful job presenting the information in layman's terms. Very informative!

  • Denise E Lindquist2 months ago

    Very interesting. Thank you!

  • Danwil Reyes2 months ago

    Cool! I liked your style and presentation of this piece of story.

  • P.K. Lowe2 months ago

    Such a informative piece!! You composed this piece wonderfully, it was engaging and enlightening! I couldn’t stop reading. He was such a talented and unique artist, I was familiar with his work but not with his story. Truly tragic. Thank you so much for sharing!! Keep up the amazing work!

  • C. H. Richard2 months ago

    Very informative story. Well done. Seeing his pictures also makes me think I have seen his work in storybooks etc.. Hearted.

  • The Dani Writer2 months ago

    An absolutely phenomenal piece of writing with content that is all levels engaging!

  • Lena Borondia2 months ago

    Okay. Wow! I knew a little of his story but this... I needed it today. And its beautiful. The art... love!

  • Sarah St.Erth2 months ago

    Such an interesting and tragic story. The descent into the schizophrenia makes me wonder if one of the causes of that illness is hyper production of dmt in the brain, as the later images remind me of some descriptions I have heard from people who take dmt intentionally. Fascinating!

  • Excellent story and love the image. Had never heard of him and an amazing illustrated descent into schizophrenia. Great writing.

  • Luna Lee Bear2 months ago

    I really enjoyed this! I’d seen these painting before and I wondered about their energy…thank you so much for writing about them!

  • Russell Ormsby 2 months ago

    Wow nice job! A very interesting story and very well told in an interesting way. The people of history has been a favourite part of history for me, being an amateur genealogist for nearly twenty years and all. I think you have earned yourself the title of being among my favourite authors with the work I have seen coming from you so far. It is an honour to call you friend. 👍

  • Mariann Carroll2 months ago

    Very informative stories. He turn cats into oriental rugs. Maybe someday there will be proper therapy instead of putting people institutions.

  • Sleepy Drafts2 months ago

    Wow! This was so interesting and sad. Looking at his paintings through this lens gave me chills. A wonderful piece. 💗

  • Lisa A Lachapelle2 months ago

    This was very well written and interesting, I worked with schizophrenics before. I think there is a chance this man was misdiagnosed. Schizophrenia manifests in the early 20's, almost is always hand in hand with a noticeable developmental delay and none have vibrant, drawings that show organized thinking. Well done.

  • Skyler2 months ago

    Awesome! I've never heard of him. And being a cat person - I adore these paintings of his!

  • A.2 months ago

    Wow - I LOVE these drawings - did not know much about the man behind them - thank you for illuminating.

  • Vanessa Gonzales2 months ago

    That's such a sad story, especially the progression of pictures at the end. I hope his art was a comfort to him even as it changed to reflect his deteriorating mental state. Really well written piece.

  • Jesus Nieves2 months ago

    Love this, even through illness he still could find peace in cats

  • C. Rommial Butler2 months ago

    Nice touch to end with a chronological arrangement of his paintings!

  • L.C. Schäfer2 months ago

    This isn't the kind of content I usually enjoy on vocal, but it was so interesting and well written that I read it all the way to the end and subscribed. There is a movie about him, isn't there? With Benedict Cumberbatch. You have inspired me to watch it. 😁

  • Eta George2 months ago

    To be honest his later art is quite amazing. But it's really sad to know this art equals his increasing schizophrenia.

  • Colleen Millsteed2 months ago

    Oh wow and how terribly sad. A very interesting read my friend

  • Lynn Leach2 months ago

    I am a root cause gal and very much interested in the psychology that drives behavior. Your article was insightful and shows the advantage of using art in helping those who struggle -- not only with Schizophrenia, but any mental or emotional challenge. Great work!

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