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Original Catfluencer: How a Victorian Artist's Feline Fixation Gave Us the Internet Cat

Louis Wain was an artist who focused on cats, and indeed fed into the obsession with cat images at the turn of the century. That would be the turn of the 20th century, 100 years ago. We've posted Louis Wain's art before, and even the theory that the artist's descent into mental illness can be traced through the degeneration of his cat drawings. However, further study shows that the theory falls apart when you take in the body of Wain's works, instead of a few examples.

While Dr. Walter Maclay’s theories have been thoroughly debunked, Beetles says, his bad ideas have been perpetually recycled—including in an influential 1950 book, Psychotic Art. “Lots of Ph.D. students have come along and written the same tosh,” he says. “It’s rubbish. There’s not an increasing decline according to how jagged the images go. Those images are from different times, and he was producing things of great naturalistic setting and great sweetness at the end. Everything didn’t dissolve into mad shapes. He produced thousands of pictures, and very few of them are these fractal cats. There’s no evidence at all that as he got older, the cats were increasingly bizarre. It’s an academic caprice and academically lazy.”

In fact, Beetles says, Wain’s work got gentler in the last decade of his life, after he was transferred “to the lovely open spaces out in the Hertfordshire countryside at Napsbury asylum, where he lived, I think, with some contentment. A lot of the later work isn’t jagged, it isn’t highly colored, and it doesn’t break up. It is often very beautiful, idyllic countryside scenes, what I would describe as a Shangri-La, the perfect world. So his imagination did go to a utopian idyll, because he lived without stress in Napsbury asylum, which I suppose is good use of the old-fashioned word, ‘asylum,’ isn’t it?”

But Wain's story is still quite interesting. Read how he got his first cat, why he started illustrating cats, and how his art lifted the very idea of the pet cat in popular culture, at Collectors Weekly. Oh yeah, there's a lot of Wain's artwork to see, too!  

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