A new exhibition at Brent Museum on the art of Louis Wain has recently opened, displaying a number of items on loan from the Bethlem Archives & Museum. Wain’s cat paintings and drawings are widely known, and he remains one of the artists most frequently requested from the Bethlem Art Collection. Born in 1860, Wain was a household name from the 1880s until the outbreak of the first world war, his distinctive, usually brightly coloured, anthropomorphised cat paintings. Always known for being ‘eccentric’, Wain began to develop signs of serious mental disorder late in life, and was hospitalised in 1924. He was transferred to Bethlem in 1925 following a campaign by his supporters, and remained at Bethlem until the move to Beckenham in 1930. Wain continued to draw and paint until near the end of his life, and died in 1939 in Napsbury Hospital, near St Albans.
As the Brent Museum exhibition recognises, reactions to Wain’s art have shifted throughout the years, having been described as ‘charming’ and ‘humorous’ but also ‘psychotic’ and ‘disturbed’. Communicating Through Cats explores how the artist saw the world during a life troubled by tragedy and mental illness, and considers how different responses to his work reflected fashions of the time. In addition to works from the Bethlem Art Collection, the exhibition also includes loans from the Chris Beetles Gallery and the Wellcome Library. You can read about the installation of the exhibition on the Brent Museum Blog.
Exhibition open from 5 May – 29 October 2011, daily (closed Sundays) 10am – 4pm.
Brent Museum is free, and based in Willesden Green Library Centre, 95 High Road, Willesden, NW10 2SF. Nearest tube Willesden Green.
A free programme of adult events and family activities will be running alongside the exhibition, including a talk by Bethlem staff on the history of the Hospital and its Art Collection on Thursday 14 July. In addition, volunteers will be running lunch-time tours of the exhibition on the last Wednesday of every month, starting at 12pm.