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Louis Wain

Louis Wain was one of the most famous postcard artists of all time, famed for his anthropomorphised cats and kittens. Martin McIlroy recalls his story and its tragedies, from his boyhood truancy through his wife's death (which defined his career) to his twilight years in a mental hospital.

Louis Wain Postcard: Why the Motor Car has come to stay.

Louis Wain Postcard: Why the Motor Car has come to stay.

One of the most important artists in the postcard collecting world is Louis Wain, famous for his anthropomorphised cats and kittens. Wain ranks at the top of postcard artists along with Donald McGill and Mabel Lucy Atwell.

Born in Clerkenwell in London on 5th August 1860 to an English father and French mother, Wain was one of six children and the only boy. He did not attend school until he was ten and often played truant. In his late teens, Wain attended the West London School of Art and eventually became a teacher at the school.

A Louis Wain postcard featuring anthropomorphised cats and a cart.

A Louis Wain postcard featuring anthropomorphised cats and a cart.

Louis Wain Postcard: The Cats' Circus.

Louis Wain Postcard: The Cats' Circus.

Louis Wain decided to strike out on his own and became a freelance artist. His speciality was drawing animals and rural subjects, in which he became extremely successful and worked for such journals as Illustrated London News and Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.

In 1883, Wain married Emily Richardson his sisters' governes. Richardson was ten years older than Louis and caused quite a&nsbp;scandal. She suffered from breast cancer and during this illness she was comforted by their pet cat Peter, who Louis would sketch. Emily died three years later and it is this sad episode in Wain's life that was to define the rest of his career. He continued sketching cats and his first drawing of anthropomorphised cats was published in an Illustrated London News Christmas issue in 1886.

Louis Wain Postcard: Hunger.

Louis Wain Postcard: Hunger.

Louis Wain Postcard: A Love Set.

Louis Wain Postcard: A Love Set.

Wain continued to support his mother and sisters but, despite his popularity, suffered financial problems. He was not a great businessman and was often exploited. Despite his prolific work rate, Louis Wain would often sell his illustrations outright, retaining no rights to their reproduction.

His cats would parody humans, he satirised fashion and popular trends of the day. In his early years, the cats generally remained on all fours and were much more naturalistic in their poses; it was only later in his career that he produced cats walking upright with wide eyes and broad smiles, also wearing clothing.

Despite his phenomenal output in both postcards, sketches and book illustrations, his mental state was frail and in 1924 was committed to a pauper ward of Springfield Mental Hospital suffering from schizophrenia. He remained in several different institutions, although he carried on sketching cats for pleasure right up until his death in 1939.

His depiction of cats playing golf, tennis and bowls, driving cars or reading newspapers will always make Louis Wain one of the most collectable postcard artists and his work is still enjoyed by different generations.

A Louis Wain postcard depicting ten cats.

A Louis Wain postcard depicting ten cats.

Louis Wain Postcard: Waiting to Greet You.

Louis Wain Postcard: Waiting to Greet You.

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