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Louis Wain was an English artist who was born in 1860 and died in 1939. Throughout his life he was famous for painting cats, and also for developing schizophrenia during the first decade of the 20th century, whilst continuing to paint cats during a spell in a mental asylum.

The cats he painted before his illness were jolly and cute, and he made a comfortable living selling them to greetings card companies. The cats he drew after his illness took hold were not jolly or cute, however. They were disturbing. Initially, they were recognisably feline, but off-putting; they did not smile, they appeared scared, their eyes bulged with alarm.

Later, his cats started to become abstract explosions of light, resembling owls and demons. After becoming a cause célèbre amongst the emerging psychoanalytic movement, a fund was set up for him to live out the rest of his days in relative comfort. He died on the eve of World War 2.

His work is periodically revived and makes for fascinating viewing. For an overview and some samples, visit:

Evidence has been unearthed that suggests that Mr. Wain was a) pretty crazy throughout his life, and b) not really so much compelled to draw cats in this style as he was trying to parody contemporary art styles, from Expressionism onward. (Apparently, he'd heard he was "sentimental and old-fashioned" once too often...) Coffee mugs with his work are available with The Royal Hospital of St. Bethlehem stamped on the other side.

Sure don't look like owls to me....

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