Louis Wain Exhibition ATP Australia 2009

Monday 5th January, 2009

Louis Wain Exhibition ATP Australia 2009

As part of the inaugural All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in Australia curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, ATP and Neon Parc are bringing out an exhibition of one of Nick Cave’s favourite artists, Louis Wain. This is the first time a Louis Wain exhibition will take place outside the UK and Nick Cave has chosen the pieces included in the exhibit personally. The pieces will kindly be on loan from the Chris Beetles Gallery of London, the principal dealer of this celebrated Edwardian artist. The exhibition is made possible with the kind assistance of Dine.

The exhibit will first be shown at a bespoke gallery created at ATP in Mount Buller on January 9th and 10th.  It will then travel to Sydney to Cockatoo Island where it will exhibit at ATP on January 17th and January 18th as part of the Sydney festival. Finally, it will return to Victoria to the Neon Parc gallery in Melbourne (1/53 Bourke Street) to exhibit on January 20th – January 31st

 

"He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves."

H G Wells, 1927

Tony Clark and Anita Lane were into Louis Wain years ago when I was still living in Melbourne and there was this extraordinary book of his pictures floating around and I was really just kind of knocked out by these pictures. Then I went to London and started seeing them in second hand shops, art dealers had them and slowly I started to be able to buy one or two and I amassed a small collection.  I have several pictures from various stages of his life – from when he was doing fairly representational pictures of cats – when they hadn’t been humanized to later ones when he was in the asylum – I love them all.

            Nick Cave, 2008

Louis Wain background

Louis Wain was born in 1860, and lived in London where he met and married Emily Richardson. They lived happily for three years but then she began suffering from breast cancer, and so Louis spent a lot of time at her bedside drawing Peter their cat to amuse her.  Emily sadly passed away but the pictures of their favourite pet Louis had created won him fame in the UK and the US and he went on to produce hundreds of drawings of cats in books and magazines.

Many people during the Victorian era only kept cats to rid of vermin, but once Louis Wain's cat art became popular, people started keeping cats as household pets, rather than just vermin killers, and welcomed cats into their homes and treated them with dignity, love and respect.

By 1907 Wain's popularity began to decline and he returned from a stint in New York broke, after his mother had died of Spanish influenza while he was abroad. His mental instability also began around this time, and increased gradually over the years. He had always been considered quite charming but odd, and often had difficulty in distinguishing between fact and fantasy. Others frequently found him incomprehensible, and his mode of speaking tangential. His behavior and personality changed, and he began to suffer from delusions, with the onset of schizophrenia. Whereas he had been a mild-mannered and trusting man, he became hostile and suspicious, particularly towards his sisters. He claimed that the flickering of the cinema screen had robbed the electricity from their brains. He began wandering the streets at night, rearranging furniture within the house, and spent long periods locked in his room writing incoherently.

When his sisters could no longer cope with his erratic and occasionally violent behaviour, he was finally committed in 1924 to a pauper ward of Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting. A year later, he was discovered there and his circumstances were widely publicized, leading to appeals from such figures as H. G. Wells and the personal intervention of the Prime Minister. Wain was transferred to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark, and again in 1930 to Napsbury Hospital near St Albans in Hertfordshire, north of London. This hospital was relatively pleasant, with a garden and colony of cats, and he spent his final 15 years there in peace. While he became increasingly deluded, his erratic mood swings subsided, and he continued drawing for pleasure. His work from this period is marked by bright colors, flowers, and intricate and abstract patterns, though his primary subject remained the same.


Louis often gave lectures on the welfare of cats and encouraged people to take in stray cats, not just purebred cats. He was elected as President and Chairman of the National Cat Club, which he served for many years, and the logo he designed for the National Cat Club is still used to this very day. He was also involved in many other animal (mainly cat) charities and groups. Louis was on the committee for the Society for the Protection of Cats, and was an honorary member of the Anti Vivisection Society.

His work is highly sought after and collected by many people including artists Nick Cave, David Tibet (Current 93) and Tracey Emin.