London: Collins, 1928. Item #03037
'Cats and Dogs' in Bethlem
WAIN, Louis. Louis Wain's Animal Book. London & Glasgow: Collins' Clear-type Press, [Collins Bumper Books, 1928].
First edition. Small quarto (8 7/16 x 6 7/16 inches; 215 x 164 mm.). 128 unnumbered pages. Full color title-page, full color frontispiece and one full color plate. Profusely illustrated throughout with two-tone color illustrations and black and white line drawings.
Original color pictorial yellow boards. Some minor [old] worming to to last leaf and rear paste-down, otherwise an exceptionally fine copy of this rare Louis Wain title.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Louis Wain (1860-1939), the Edwardian cat artist who went mad, became a household name as an illustrator of cats, whom he depicted in all sorts of activities, from skating and playing cricket to driving motor cars, attending dances, and playing musical instruments. “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).
“From 1883, Wain began to draw cats as they had never been drawn before, cats in humorous guises, in human situations, but always beautifully handled…although he was sometimes forced to draw dogs before he became well-known!” (Houfe, The Dictionary of British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists 1800-1914).
It is well known that Louis Wain did some of his best work after he was declared insane. He had suffered the loss of his wife Emily in 1886, just three years after they were married. In 1914 he had invested money in his porcelain 'Futurist Cats' but within two months of the launching of the cats, the Great War broke out. It is said that a ship carrying a cargo of them was torpedoed, and with it sank all Louis Wain's hopes of a financial return from the project. This was not the worst of Wain's misfortunes… On Wednesday October 7th, 1914, Louis Wain "slipped on the stairs" and fell off a London Omnibus (open-top bus) which had swerved and braked to avoid 'a cat'. For more than a week he lay unconscious in St. Bartholomew's Hospital. When he came round, Wain moaned something about "The cat! The cat!" Not very long passed before he had to go to a mental hospital. Cats had indeed robbed him of his wealth, his health and his reason. 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. In the Autumn of 1927 Wain was transferred to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark, and again in May 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 fifteen 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 colours, flowers, and intricate and abstract patterns, though his primary subject remained the same.