Cat Smoking A Cigar is one of thousands of paintings by Louis Wain of anthropomorphized cats. Louis Wain was a man of great talent. It appears to me that he had a difficult and hard life. At least at times. His talent as an artist shone through like a beacon of fun and normality.
The Picture “Cat Smoking A Cigar”
Louis Wain must have had a very tender side to his personality. By today’s standards and ideas, I think it would be fair to say he was a cat lover. In fact, I think he liked all animals. This assessment is partly made on the basis that he rescued a lost and abandoned black and white kitten who was meowing in the rain. He took the kitten in. At the time his wife of only about three years, Emily, was dying of breast cancer. He named the cat Peter. Peter brightened up the last moments of Emily’s life. Peter also takes credit from Louis Wain himself for the direction in which his artistic career went. Louis Wain drew pictures of Peter which pleased his wife. Louis says of Peter:
“To him, properly, belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work.”
Peter, then, started Louis on the road of creating anthropomorphized cat drawings for which he is now famous. At the time he lived in Hampstead in London. This is now a relatively posh place.
The painting of the cat smoking the cigar is of a classic brown tabby. Louis must have known cats well. He would have known the cat breeds of the time as he was Chairman on the National Cat Club on two occasions (1898 and 1911). This was a very important cat club at the time. He wanted to promote the cat in England because he was was unhappy, it seems, with the way the domestic cat was perceived at the time (“the contempt in which the cat has been held”).
The brown tabby is the quintessential moggie cat. Louis has painted the cat’s ears flattened and with a monocle over the left eye. Louis would get his ideas for representing cats as humans while sitting in public places and drawing people as cats.
There is no doubt in my mind that the brown tabby cat smoking a cigar is a representation of a real person in a restaurant or some other public place. The year is 1879. The flattened ears are purely for visual effect. Flattened ears in a cat means a defensive position when under attack or threat from another cat. The person upon whom the painting is based was not under threat it appears to me judging by his general demeanor and what he is doing.
That said, it makes me wonder about the emotional state of this person/cat. Perhaps, on second thoughts, judging by the cat’s right which it looks like a clenched fist, this cat is under threat and is preparing to fight.
Some More About Louis Wain
Louis Wain was born on 5 August 1860 in the East End of London, Clerkenwell. He had five sisters. When he was barely a man he had to support the family on his father’s death. Louis lived with his mother for most of his life. Four of his sisters did the same. The fifth was sent to an asylum for the insane. It sounds like a terrible difficult life.
Louis had a cleft lip and was not allowed to attend school until aged ten. I don’t understand the connection, personally.
I have already touched on his brief marriage and Peter the cat he rescued. Despite his talent and success as a painter of anthropomorphized cats and widely published, he was not a businessman and he had heavy responsibilities towards his family.
He was financially broke around 1907 having invested his money poorly. His mother died and he declined into mental illness (schizophrenia) which was apparently in the family to a certain extent. Some people have put his schizophrenia down to toxoplasmosis. Cats are carriers of this disease. There is no evidence for this. It is a modern idea created by modern day cat haters. This is purely my opinion.
Eventually he has sent to a mental institution for the poor (1924) and thereafter on the intervention of well known people including the then Prime Minister transferred to a better mental institution where he continued to paint cats (1930). His painting style had changed by then.
This is a sad story really. Genius tinged with madness and a very difficult time. His genius has left the legacy he deserves. He is famous for his work, today, 2012 and widely forged….