Many of these are of appealing cats with large eyes. However Wain did not begin his artistic career with cats. Born the son of a textile trader and embroiderer in Clerkenwell, he lost his father when he was 20 but continued to live with his French mother and his 5 younger sisters for most of his life. He worked for newspapers such as the Illustrated london News, drawing detailed pictures of English country houses and livestock at agricultural shows.
When he was 23 he married his sisters' governess, Emily Richardson, but sadly she died 3 years later. While she was suffering from breast cancer she took great comfort from the company of a stray black and white cat which the couple had taken in. Louis began to draw the cat, eventually publishing his first cat picture in 1886.
Wain illustrated one hundred children's books during his life. He considered taking up illustrating dogs but decided to experiment with his cat pictures.
At first the cats stood on four legs, but soon they walked upright and wore clothes, which was a popular motif of the day. They always exhibited exaggerated expressions. The postcards have always remained popular and from 1901-1915 the Louis Wain annual was published.
Louis had poor business sense and struggled financially to support his mother and sisters. In the 1920s his behaviour became erratic and occasionally violent so in 1924 his sisters had him committed to the Pauper Ward of a mental hospital in Tooting. A year later, at the instigation of the Prime Minister, Wain was transferred to Bethlem Royal Hospital where the garden included a colony of cats.
It was said that Louis Wain suffered from schizophrenia and that this could be seen in the bright colours and highly patterned cats he produced in his later years, but it now believed that in fact he had Asperger's Syndrome. None of his pictures were dated and some argue that if these were his later drawings, they were evidence of his experimentation and artistic maturity.
One thing is certain; you either love them or hate them.