Louis Wain - a true cat-lover

 

 

Any history or anthology of the National Cat Club would be incomplete without the "Winking Cat" or the National Logo - both designed by one of the National's Founder members, the renowned artist and illustrator Louis Wain.

Not only a Founder Member, Louis Wain was Chairman in 1898 and 1911 and Show Manager in 1900.

His contributions to the foundations of this great club were immense and his talented paintings, sketches, drawings and cartoons of cats must have played a major part in popularising the cat. It was so tragic, therefore, when in 1925 he was discovered to be living in a pauper lunatic asylum.

An appeal was launched by Mrs. Cecil Chesterton in the September, 1925, issue of the magazine ANIMALS. This produced an immediate response from the public.


In her appeal, Mrs. Chesterton wrote, "For years Louis Wain's cats decorated our hoardings, adorned the covers of magazines and were familiarly loved by every child and the majority of grown-ups. No Christmas Calendar was complete without this artist, no annual was issued that did not contain one of his vivid sketches. And yet, at the age of 65, he is so bereft of means that in his affliction he is compelled to accept the hospitality of a State institution ..............."
 

"Louis Wain was not one of those men who take no thought for the morrow. His history is one of the tragedies which rouse our deepest feelings of commiseration. For years he made a fair income but, with a lack of business acumen, so often allied to genius, when he sold his drawings he parted with them outright, thus receiving no payment when they were reproduced over and over, again .............."

"Though he was a prolific worker, the war (1914-1918) put an end to his means of livelihood as public demand changed in favour of khaki as against cats. Such publications as were still devoted to Louis Wain reproduced those of his drawings which had already been paid for."

"By this means Louis Wain's resources dwindled and though for a time he made a little money by cinema cartoons, he gradually found himself penniless and without employment. A period of intense privation, added to the mental strain and bewilderment at finding himself in such a position, precipitated a breakdown. In 1923 he was admitted as a pauper to the asylum where he has been ever since."

"This is a case which should appeal not only to the lovers of art and admirers of Louis Wain's particular talents but should enlist the heartfelt sympathy of those devoted to animals and concerned for their kindly treatment. Louis Wain did very much for animals."

 

 

 

Louis Wain was the President of the National Cat Club and remained Chairman of the Committee right down to the date of his illness. He has supported innumerable Cats' Homes and Receiving Shelters for Stray Cats and was one of the Governing Council of Our Dumb Friends' League and an active member of the National Anti-Vivisection Society and his understanding of our four-footed creatures established many beautiful friendships between him and them."

"At the present moment this man, who has delighted thousands of people, and conjured up innumerable smiles, lives in an asylum where, despite the sympathy and kindliness of the officials, the conditions are necessarily terrible. An asylum, in any case, must be a place of woe and desolation but there are certain ameliorations in the matter of surroundings which money makes possible...................Were sufficient funds forthcoming Louis Wain could be removed to the paying portion of the asylum with a more generous diet and increased facilities for seeing his friends."

"Louis Wain is not a violent lunatic. He is now what he has always been - gentle, unassuming, humorous and able at times to use his pencil and reproduce his beloved cats. But there are periods of darkness when he knows no one. At such periods one feels acutely that he should have everything that money can provide."


There was an immediate and generous response to Mrs. Chesterton's heartrending appeal. In the October issue of ANIMALS it was reported, "Thanks to the generous support of the Public, Louis in is no longer in a pauper lunatic asylum. He is now in Bethlem Royal Hospital where his expenses are being defrayed by the fund. But this does not permanently settle the problem of his future. If he remains in his present condition the question of his maintenance must continue for some years. And not maintenance only. He now enjoys the amenities suitable to his temperament and condition. An entirely new wardrobe has been supplied to him, his room is comfortably furnished and he has all the colours etc. he can desire."

"There is, however, another side to the question. Medical opinion believes that there is some faint hope of his recovery. Should this hope be fulfilled it would be most disastrous that he should return to the world without a home and adequate provision until such time as he could earn his living once again. His family dependence are not in a position to do this and it becomes, therefore, a matter of urgent necessity to arrange for this possibility."

In a final message, the Appeal Committee expressed their thanks, "............. to the Press for their generous support. The Daily Graphic competition brought the fund the gratifying total sum of 283 and from all over the country we have received letters sent to the local newspapers containing subscriptions. The whole of Great Britain and Ireland have combined to help us in our work to relieve the famous cat artist."

Thanks were also expressed to the famous author H G Wells and to the British Broadcasting Co. and to many admirers who sent original sketches for sale and to artists who contributed signed pictures for the same purpose.

It is a wonderful story and, as often stated many times in all circumstances, "................... It is one more proof that the great heart of the public is ever open to the unfortunate and afflicted". words written in 1925 but still applicable today when a just cause is publicised.

At the 1996 Centenary National Show there were many Charities where the Public of 1996 showed their generosity as a tribute to this great artist who had so much influence in the founding of the National Cat Club and who, through his wonderful work, generated a public love of cats which has not been so forthcoming in previous years.

Extracts included in this feature, and the illustrations are taken from "Souvenir of Louis Wain's Work" published in 1925

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