Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the lead role in a film about Louis Wain, the eponymous and cat-loving English artist who is famous for his drawings of anthropomorphized cats and kittens. Mr Cumberbatch is playing opposite Claire Foy who plays Emily Richardson-Wain his wife. The film is being made and I don’t when it will be released. Cumberbatch looks like Louis Wain. Update July 17, 2021: the film is about to be released.
To be honest, although cats must play a big role in the film (and we see Peter, the Wain’s family cat in the photo below), the film is about the talented Wain who became mentally ill and about the character of people – the human condition perhaps. The film lends itself to CGI. It’ll be great.
The film is written and directed by Will Sharpe. I felt that I had to report this because it is rare, indeed very rare, to make a film in which cats play a central role even if they are drawings! But anyway, he loved cats. If you are unfamiliar with Louis Wain, here’s a bit about him.
Cumberbatch wrote a foreword to a book about the artist in which she urges people to show more love for strangers and anybody who is different which I take to mean an outsider. He wants people to have more compassion for “oddballs and outsiders”. He clearly believes that Louis Wain was an outsider.
He was born on 5 August 1860. He was an English artist. His mother was French and his father was a textile trader and embroiderer. He was a school truant and studied at the West London School of Art where he became a teacher for a short time. Clearly his talent was recognised.
He soon quit this teaching position to become a freelance artist achieving substantial success. He specialised in drawing animals and his illustrations were published in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News and The Illustrated London News.
In 1886 he first began to draw anthropomorphised cats. They were published in the Christmas issue of the Illustrated London News under the title “A Kittens’ Christmas Party”.
The illustration showed 150 cats. Many of the cats resembled Peter. Peter was the family cat. He was a stray black-and-white kitten that they had rescued after hearing him meowing outside in the rain one night. I’m told that Peter helped Emily during her illness with breast cancer of which she died three years into their marriage. Louis made many sketches of Peter during this time and Emily encouraged him to have them published.
“To him, properly, belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work.”
Louis Wain developed his drawings of anthropomorphised cats and became a prolific artist over 30 years. Sometimes he produced as many as several hundred drawings a year.
“I take a sketch-book to a restaurant, or other public places, and draw the people in the different positions as cats, getting as near to their human characteristics as possible. This gives me doubly nature, and the studies I think [to be] my best humorous work.”
Bearing in mind today of the heavy publicity surrounding toxoplasmosis, it is highly ironic and upsetting to have found out that Louis Wain developed schizophrenia possibly precipitated by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Comment: I wonder whether this information which comes from Wikipedia has been added by somebody who dislikes cats. That may sound like a far-fetched idea but I feel that it is possible. It is astonishing to have discovered this. It is pure speculation that Wain’s mental health issue was caused this parasite. You may know that the cat is the primarily carrier of toxoplasma gondii oocysts which for a short time during the cat’s life are shed in feces.
I sincerely hope that the director deals with this issue of Wain’s live sensitively and does not unjustly malign the domestic cat because a recent study concluded that the parasite does not cause schizophrenia in people.
Louis Wain spent the last years of his life at the Napsbury Mental Hospital near St Albans, Hertfordshire. Apparently, he was happy there because there were gardens and a colony of cats. Strangely, I have visited that hospital when I was doing a photographic story when I was a photographer. It is now closed. It was a classic old fashioned mental hospital. Wain continued to paint while at the hospital.