Kaleidoscope Cats: A Clinical Perspective on Louis Wain

After more than a year’s absence from the museum, for exhibitions in Brent Museum and the Nicholson Art Gallery in Leek, the Louis Wain collection is back at Bethlem for a winter show, which opened earlier this month. Humorous and whimsical, or psychedelic, Wain’s cat images were much loved in the Victorian and Edwardian era, and remain so today. Wain was one of the last patients to be treated at Bethlem before the move to Beckenham. Certified insane in June 1924, Wain was transferred to Bethlem after a year in the Springfield Hospital in Tooting, following a newspaper appeal to “animal lovers and admirers” of his work. He stayed at Bethlem for five years, and moved to Napsbury Hospital in May 1930, as Bethlem was emptied prior to the move to Monks Orchard. As Wain settled in well at Napsbury, he remained there.

There has been much speculation over the years about the relationship of Wain’s art to his mental health, for the artist continued to paint and draw almost until his death, aged 78, in July 1939. In particular, the work of Drs Eric Guttman and Walter Maclay (whose interest in art has formed the basis of previous exhibitions) in the later 1930s encouraged efforts to arrange Wain’s pictures to form a supposed clinical progression, from conventional to psychedelic. There has also been much debate about how he might be retrospectively diagnosed: either following his certification at the age of 63, or earlier in life when, according to certain accounts, the artist was shy and eccentric.

Both of these ideas will be discussed in a free talk in the museum on Saturday 1 December, when consultant psychiatrist Dr David O’Flynn (Chair of the Adamson Collection) refutes many of the myths surrounding Louis Wain’s “Kaleidoscope Cat” series. The Adamson Collection, a remarkable collection of around 5,000 artworks, has recently been protected in a move to the Wellcome Library. Named after Edward Adamson, a trained artist who served as a medical orderly in the Second World War, the collection emerged from the art studio established by Adamson in the 1940s at Netherne Hospital.

As well as our regular opening hours, the museum will open on Saturday 1 and 8 December, from 11am – 5pm, for an extra opportunity to see the Louis Wain exhibition. Dr O’Flynn’s talk will take place at 2pm on 1 December, and the Archivist will talk about Wain’s later work and life at Bethlem at the same time on 8 December. The Bethlem Gallery’s Art Fair and the museum shop will also be open for Christmas shopping. For full details, visit our website.

 Louis Wain Christmas Cats

Louis Wain – Cats’ Christmas

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