Louis Wain’s cat paintings are heading to Lyon & Turnbull auction house’s sale. The auction, Lyon & Turnbull’s Modern Made, will occur in London, on October 27. There are two cat works, both being part of the same family’s collection since at least 1915. Also, the paintings were distant from the public eye for over a century. Their estimated value is somewhere between £10,000-15,000 each.
Normalizing the Ownership of Cats
These two “purrfect” painter’s works can be really appealing to feline fanatics everywhere. Mirth at the sometimes bizarre behavior of the domesticated cat is not just the stuff of 21st-century social media. At the turn of the 20th century, the illustrations of Louis Wain were virtually inescapable. His world of anthropomorphized cats did much to normalize the ownership of cats as pets.
Also, it was so popular that he wrote and illustrated over 100 children’s books. His troubled life story – success, tragedy, and failing mental health – had a dramatic representation on the big screen. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ (2021), starring Benedict Cumberbatch reflects that sentiment. He remains revered in the cat-collecting community despite the painter’s recent ascent to fame and his profile.
The works offered here are from the peak of this unique artist’s career. Also, they are amongst some of the finest examples to have appeared on the market for some years. He created them both around 1904 in pen, ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper and board.
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Why is Wain a “national treasure”?
Philip Smith, Head of Sales, commented on the works. “When it comes to cats, there really was no one better than Wain, and he made the cat his own. These fine and charming works, full of humor and character, and unseen in public for 100 years, are some of the finest examples to come to the market”, he said. ‘Hockey’ depicts a ferociously competitive cat hockey match with the viewer plunged into the thick of the action.
It is one of Wain’s most recognizable and popular images, having been one of the most widely published postcards of 1904-05. “To Be Let Unfurnished” is another multi-subject picture: a plotline unfolds as some 18 felines, young and old, assemble outside a disused property. Both pictures throng with the attention to detail and characterization that made Wain a “national treasure”.
When, later in life, the public discovered what had become of him (certified insane, he was committed to a pauper’s asylum in south London in 1924 and spent the final 15 years of his life in hospital) a fund was set up to raise money for him and his family. Ramsey MacDonald, the prime minister at the time, arranged pensions for Wain’s sisters while the artist, still painting and drawing cats, was able to move to more comfortable surroundings.