Thanks to many famous Disney and Pixar film characters, we watch adorable critters that walk and talk just like we humans do all the time and it seems like it has been like that forever.
But, it wasn’t until the late-19th century that such anthropomorphic animals were popularized, almost single-handedly, by a British illustrator named Louis Wain.
Celebrated today for psychedelic cat drawings, Wain soared to the heights of feline fame during his earlier years for his ability to hold a furry mirror up to Victorian society.
This new perspective made the English public laugh at themselves more easily when presented with comic social disorder through animals.
Wain grew from being a mere illustrator and lover of cats to attain the nearly mythical status of a total feline expert:
He was elected president of the National Cat Club in 1890 and hosted its annual cat show each year in London.
At the age of 23, Louis married his sisters’ governess, Emily Richardson, but soon after the wedding she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.
In the last three years of Emily’s life Louis would do caricatures of their cat Peter, just to cheer up her dying wife. Non of those private drawings were meant for publication.
RELATED: 5 ways cats can cure depression
But after seeing the drawings, editors at the Illustrated London News, where Wain was a freelancer, offered to print some of his cat art. Days before his wife’s death.
A Kitten’s Christmas Party – a drawing featuring 150 cats that took 11 days to create – appeared in the newspaper.
There were cats playing cricket, cats digging up roads, cats riding bicycles.
Often these were created as Wain sat in public places and furtively sketched the people around him, but as anthropomorphised felines.
His cats became an overnight sensation. People loved his drawings because they weren’t “simply of cats”; they were cats doing things which humans did.
His instantly recognisable drawings of anthropomorphic cats started to appear in books, magazines and postcards.
Wain exhibited schizophrenia behavior decades before he was diagnosed. His reputation as an eccentric artist masked his mental instability from friends and family.
He was eventually admitted to the Bedlam’ psychiatric hospital and continued to produce many drawings of gleeful and often outlandish creatures.
In fact, the dazzlingly colorful, fractal, and powerfully enigmatic kaleidoscopic cats for which Wain is revered today were produced during his period of hospitalization.
His body of work demonstrated the therapeutic and restorative effect that closeness with animals can have on a person’s mental health.
In 2021, to celebrate the artist’s life, the movie ” The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” was released.
The film is based on the extraordinary true story of this eccentric artist whose playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures, helped to transform the public’s perception of cats forever.