Wain’s Kalideoscope Cats

Louis Wain was an artist popular for his paintings of cats in the late 1800s and early 1900s. H.G. Wells said that “He has made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.”

Wain began to exhibit the symptoms of schizophrenia around 1910, and was committed to a mental hospital in 1924.

The following pictures of cats are typically interpreted as illustrating the increasing effects of his schizophrenia. Some debate this however, as Wain did not date his paintings, and argue that he was simply experimenting with patterns reflecting his mother’s work designing textiles.

Regardless of explanation, they remain utterly fascinating.

Cat 1

Cat 2

Cat 3

Cat 4

Cat 5

Cat 6

Cat 7

Cat 8

All images copyright the Archives and Museum of Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Like this post? Check out More of Wain’s Kaleideoscope Cats.

About the Author

lives and works in Ontario, Canada.

47 Responses to “Wain’s Kalideoscope Cats”

  1. I hope I never go crazy. Those things look like they take a really long time to draw.

  2. I dunno, those paintings exhibit a lot of control for someone who is supposed to have schizophrenia.

  3. They sure look reminiscent of some excursions I’ve taken with certain short acting tryptamines…

    Thanks for posting these! I wish I could grab ‘em in higher rez… They’d make a tasty desktop background.

  4. Jeremy, understand that simply because one has schizophrenia does not mean that he or she is incapable of precise work.

  5. @Jeremy

    …exhibit a lot of control…

    Man, schizophrenia describes a condition that manifests a detatchment from reality. Not recklessness.

  6. I didn’t think it was uncommon for them to spend time on strange but OCD-like tasks involving a great deal of careful precision. Like these paintings.

  7. Louis Wain didn’t make the drawings like that in exact order. After his breakdown, he made more normal works, and well before it, he came up with some pretty wacked productions. Still, his evident disposition to become schizophrenic probably didn’t hurt his …..very unique approach. Poor cats.

  8. Wow. Those drawings are VERY similar to the colors and patterns when induced with heavy amounts of mushrooms, LSD, or any other sort of psychoactive tryptamine or phenethylamine. Interesting how in the past medical doctors tried associating schizophrenia with psychotropic drugs. It was debunked, but these pictures are something to marvel at.

  9. The third one down is on the cover of Oingo Boingo’s first EP.

  10. @TN
    I haven’t laughed that hard in a week.
    Also, fantastic artwork.

  11. schizophrenia has nothing to do with motor control, unless you’re on meds, then it can be unbearable, I hear. Who are we to judge, though, that madness is a less valuable state of mind than a sober bean counter’s?

  12. …I remember the very first time I smoked DMT…

  13. He sure went crazy, likely with LSD, that isn’t schizophrenia you are seeing

    did they treat him with weird drugs? most likely, as well as ECT, they basically tortured you in those days, and drugged you till you were crazy, if they didn’t also labotomize you.

  14. I remember seeing these photos in “Life” magazine back in the early-mid 1960′s. They profoundly struck me then in terms of pure imagery, which I thought was brilliant. I’ve since grown up to be a Fine Arts painter, and have often rferred to these cats in conversations with artists about imagery which influenced me early on. Thanks for bringing these beautiful early examples of “Outsider Art” to light once more. I’m wondering now if there is a larger body of Wain’s work to be found.

  15. they look like fractals.

  16. Well, they do look like someone has schiziphrenia, or the person was on LSD/

  17. In all the psych classes I have ever taken, the books list these paintings, then say that the order is incorrect. The most ‘psychedelic’ of these was painted second. This was a publicity stunt

  18. nice art.

  19. the 3rd image from the bottom is used in an episode of aqua teen hunger force called “robositter”. meatwad ingests an entire medicine cabinet full of pills, and when frylock comes looking for him, this is what meatwad sees.
    seriously. check it out.

  20. Dogs = Beer
    Cats = Acid

  21. [...] via gmilburn.ca [...]

  22. schizophrenia is beautiful

  23. Hmmm, I guess you learn something new every day. Glad I wouldn’t be out of a job then if I turned out to be schizophrenic.

  24. The cats… they are watching… they are learning… they are… not to be trusted…

  25. Terry. Yes you Terry Wagar. We know you are here. We are all watching you.
    This time we will succeed. No more games Terry. No more spying on Joan and I.
    No poison this time, this time it will be quick and easy. Framing you as a pedo
    was small compared to what we have planned.

  26. He was alive before LSD was first synthesized. Also, if you flip over the sixth one from the top, you see another cat who looks much more depressed, possibly because the rest of the picture looks something like a monster eating his mind, a common theme in schizophrenic delusions. Even if it was accidental, that’s damn good artistry.

  27. All I see are messages about how gmilburn.ca is so awesome that this site stole its images. Did you get in trouble for using your own images?

  28. Tyler – I added hotlink protection in my .htaccess file a few days ago, I’ve removed it for the time being to prevent any more issues such as yours. Are you behind a proxy or any other atypical internet setup?

  29. Woohooo. Next time my cat starts pulling that stuff I’ll know it’s time to get my meds changed. Great artwork though.

  30. Whatever drugs he’s on, I don’t want to take them. Still very cool tough.

  31. I have seen these pictures before on the net and in that occasion they were (likely) by a different artist and the description said those pics were drawn during an LSD trip: from taking the drug to the climax of the trip.

    1. ces -

      It’s quite established that the drawings are by Wain, the controversy lies in the chronology and motivation of the design. While they certainly look psychedelic, LSD was not involved in any way – Wain died in 1939, four years before the first ingestion of LSD by humans.

  32. Wain had schizophrenia. The reason it looks like an LSD trip (or psilocybin, etc) is because LSD increases the serotonin (5-HT) levels in the brain. Schizophrenia results from having excess dopamine (DA) in the brain, which leads to overstimulation of serotonergic pathways. They result in similar hallucinations, but LSD causes permanent degredation to serotonergic pathways while schizophrenia does not affect the framework, but is only excess neurotransmitter (and can be corrected by blocking the receptors on which DA and 5-HT work.

    So really, it IS Wain’s work and he WAS a schizophrenic.

    1. Hi Kate -

      One correction, I have read in no papers that LSD leads to permanent degradation of serotogenic pathways. If you aware of any evidence, please forward me the paper or a reference to the PubMed/similar entry.

      Are you confusing this with the discredited Ricaute study on MDMA? (ie the one that “accidentally” used methamphetamine instead of MDMA)

  33. i saw these same pictures about a year ago, only it was detailing the effects of LSD, not schizophrenia.
    it was about a man asked to draw a cat once every hour after taking LSD. the first one was a control.

    1. You got trolled Seth – they’re definitely by Louis Wain, painted far before LSD was discovered.

  34. How does this exhibit a lack of control? Each painting looks even more fucking complicated then the last.

    This is awesome.

  35. To be fair, humans have been ingesting psychedelic substances long before LSD was synthesized.

  36. Some of the most intricate artwork ever seen was done by schizophrenics and manic depressives. The subject matter and its depiction are not usually “normal,” in society’s sense of the word, but the product is at a very high level in terms of skill. There is a degree of focus in some patients that borders on OCD. Rules that “must” be followed, or colors that “must” be used. It’s a fascinating subject, just as much as the differing levels of skill in multiple personalities is.

    1. Hi! I’m the owner of that tattoo, tnhkas for featuring me! I’m still not 100% percent sure that the cats with umbrella drawing is by Louis Wain though. When I was doing my research for the tattoo I only found a couple of mentions associating this drawing and Wain from not very reliable sources. It just doesn’t seem to fit the same characteristics Wain’s paintings carry (like super rounded eyes, cartoon-y faces, for example). Victorian loved scenes with cats in human position and there were many artists, both known and unknown, that used them in valentines and cards. :-)

  37. [...] always been fascinated by Louis Wain’s kaleidoscope cats. It’s been argued that the pictures depict Wain’s mental deterioration (he was [...]

  38. I suffer from schizophrenia. It’s not severe or anything, and most of the time I’m perfectly fine. I think my perception of the world is much the same as everyone else’s. If I ever have an episode, certain things around my distort themselves. Sometimes I think it’s real, sometimes I’m conscious of the fact that it’s not. Either way, I try not to view my episodes as a bad thing. If anything they bring out my creative side and inspire me to draw. I can definitely see how schizophrenia may have inspired him to draw those awesome, twisted, monstrous cats.

  39. I have schizophrenia, I don’t believe this is what someone with my disorder would draw during an episode, I’ve done a lot of hallucinogenic drugs, and honestly this reminds me more of that, schizophrenia doesn’t mean we see things differently, merely sense things that everyone else wouldn’t. I believe he could control himself, but he did this either because he was tripping his nuts off (unlikely) or for pure experimental purposes, he was an artist afterall wasn’t he? Why not practice different, more abstract styles, it’s what most artists do =)

  40. This artist IS NOT CRAZY.
    He’s just on acid.

  41. [...] in the late 1800s and early 1900s for his paintings of cats. Wain suffered from psychosis, and the progression of his art may have reflected this struggle. Paintings of cats by Louis [...]

  42. schizophrenia may have some thing to do with motor control, for example, catatonic schizophrenics may suffer from complete physical immobility, where they find themselves stuck in a statue-like position for hours even days. they retain a waxy flexibility and are often completely unaware of their surroundings (catatonic stupor). They also, rather than being unable to move, may move in an uncontrolable excited manner. Causing them to flail their arms, turn in circles, pace in a frenzy or make loud noises. They may also have inappropriate or unusual postures, grimace for long periods or adopt unusual mannerisms. They may also have habits known as stereotyped behaviors, which can include repeating words, obsessively following a routine, or always arranging objects exactly the same way. Thusly explaining his obsessive mannerisms involved in his drawings.

  43. “Who are we to judge, though, that madness is a less valuable state of mind than a sober bean counter’s?”


    I think schizophrenia is closer to real ‘sanity’ than most realize. They’ve found the abyss after all – - – - – - -

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