A Tale of Peter and His Crazy Dad - Louis Wain

A Tale of Peter and His Crazy Dad - Louis Wain

When Peter was but a kitten, he was given to Louis Wain and his wife Emily. Emily and Wain had only been married a brief time when she was diagnosed with cancer. In the 1880’s there were fewer treatments for cancer and thus the best one could hope for was comfort, love, and laughter.  Peter   provided comfort and love by spending most of his time cuddled patiently with Emily.  When he wasn’t cuddling, Peter was taught many tricks by Louis, much to the amusement of Emily.

An illustrator by trade, Louis began to sketch Peter doing tricks and soon their home was covered in pictures of “Peter the Great”.  Family and friends who visited had nothing but praise for the artwork. Though Wain thought of himself as a dog artist, once saying “Whoever would want to see a picture of a cat?”, Emily insisted that Wain show his pictures to Sir William Ingram.  Ingram owned The Illustrated London News and he agreed to publish a couple of the drawings. Then in 1886 Ingram published a newspaper supplement featuring a drawing “A Kitten’s Christmas Party” which depicted 150 cats.  The supplement was a hit with readers. The same year Wain illustrated a book Madame Tabby’s Establishment.

Suddenly Wain was known as a cat artist par excellence. Then in January 1887 Emily died.  Louis and Peter moved to a new house where Louis devoted himself to his work.  In 1890 Louis’ cats began to take on human qualities. Anthropomorphic art was popular during the 19th century and Louis published “Cat’s Christmas Dance” and “A Cat’s Party” which delighted readers. He became so popular that in 1891, Louis was elected President of the National Cat Club.

HG Wells once remarked, “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”.  Louis Wain became one of the most prolific postcard illustrators of all time. As years went on Wain’s cats became more and more psychedelic.  Despite his success, he was no businessman, Wain suffered from mental illness, and ended up in 1924 in the pauper ward of mental hospital where he was certified insane.  Today his books, illustrations, and postcards are collected around the world.  Recently there was even a movie made about his life.

To better understand the role Peter played in Wain’s success one only has to read Wain’s own words.  “Peter, for so he was christened, came to us almost with his first sight of the world; like all kittens, he suffered from an inordinate sense of affection, and so impressed his individuality upon the family mind. Truly, with the linnet, he grew into our lives, and ultimately, when Nature called the little piper’s limit, he became the one and only household god.”

“With my wife invalided to the house’, Peter “never suffered through inattention, loneliness, or thoughtlessness. He was the genius which gilded many a sorrowful hour and lightened many a burden”.  “To him properly belongs the foundation of my career, the development of my initial efforts, and the establishment of my work."  “The ‘getting there’ came through Peter” “I see him now, lying on the sick bed, just as he always was, his paws and body resting on my wife’s arm, and I remember well the sigh of relief that came from her as the genial warmth from his body assuaged her pangs and soothed her into peaceful slumber". 


Vickie Prater

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