Friday, September 17, 2010

Arty Farty Friday ~ CAT ART ~ Louis Wain & Théophile Alexandre Steinlen

Balancing last week's Arty Farty dog photographs, a look at a couple of artists known for their illustrations of cats: Louis Wain, and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (hereafter referred to simply as Steinlen to save my typing fingers).

Louis Wain was born on 5 August 1860 in London, England. His story is a sad one. Born with a cleft lip, one of 6 children, the only male. His youngest sister was certified insane, none of his other sisters married. Louis studied art, taught for a while then became a artist/illustrator specialising in animal subjects and rural scenes. He married his youngest sister's governess, Emily Richardson, causing something of a scandal. His wife died three years later of breast cancer. Louis started drawing their cat Peter to amuse his sick wife.

"Emily encouraged him to send these drawings to newspapers and magazines, and soon the Louis Wain cat was a household name, not only in Britain but also in America, where his comics and drawings of cats appeared in several newspapers. Louis Wain was elected as President of the National Cat Club and wrote the book 'In Animal Land with Louis Wain' in 1904.

After the First World War, the public's interest in cats diminished, and Wain reached a personal crisis, falling into poverty and being affected by schizophrenia around age 57. In 1924, he was certified insane and admitted to the pauper's wing of a mental hospital.

Years later, he was recognized and a fund was set up for him (by prominents such as H.G. Wells), enabling Louis Wain to spend his last years, until his death in 1939, in comfortable asylums where he continued to draw and paint cats."

Chart set for 12 noon in the absence of a birth time. Moon would have been somewhere between 18 degrees Pisces and 0 degrees Aries.

Louis Wain's descent into psychotic illness could have stemmed from some genetic weakness, bearing in mind one of his sisters spent her life in an asylum. Other speculations are covered at Wikipedia (link above).

One chart indication of the problem could come from Moon (inner self) conjunct Neptune (Neptune = delusion, as well as creativity).

He returned from New York broke, and his mother had died of Spanish influenza while he was abroad. His mental instability also began around this time, and increased gradually over the years. He had always been considered quite charming but odd, and often had difficulty in distinguishing between fact and fantasy.

He was, when in full health, clearly a cheery, often child-like Leo-type according to his four planets in that sign, and his early paintings. Venus, planet of art in gentle, sensitive Cancer is opposed by Mars from serious and much colder Capricorn, reflecting some inner challenges.

In the second decade of the 20th century when his mental disorder arose Uranus was transiting Aquarius, and at times would have been opposite one or other of his Leo cluster of planets....another astrological possibility relating to his mental descent.

The paintings done after his mental breakdown show marked differences. The cats' eyes become hostile, the cats' bodies shown as fragmented.

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, the other artist best remembered for his cat illustrations. His were more formal, often stylised depictions.

Steinlen was born on 10 November 1859 in Lausanne, Switzerland. He started his career as designer trainee at a textile mill in eastern France. He and his new wife moved to the arty quarter of Paris where he met the owner of Le Chat Noir, a nightclub/cabaret, who commissioned Steinlen to produce some posters - they are now world famous. Cats were not his only subject, just the appropriate one for this post.

A couple of brief points: There's a nice Grand Trine in Water signs linking Venus (the arts)/Neptune (creativity)/ Jupiter (publication) - good for poster production!
Moon would have been in Taurus (ruled by Venus) whatever Steinlen's birth time, perhaps opposing his Scorpio Sun, or Venus - balancing any over-passionate traits with practicality and common sense.


Wisewebwoman said...

Funny,I bought that Chat Noir poster last year in Paris.

Lovely post, T, I learn so much when I drop in here.

Steinlen's story is riveting.


RafaelVR said...

I am sorry for my multiple comments! But this was very odd! You just introduced me the artist of my favorite shirt (chat noir) that I bought in Paris.

Interesting the expression of his draws before and during/after Uranus opposes his Leo’s!

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Both artists' stories are interesting, yes. I wonder if you meant to write that Louis Wain's story was riveting though? That's the detailed one in the post - being less run-of-the mill - and very sad?

Twilight said...

RaphaelVR ~~~ Hi again. Please, never apologise for commenting!
I, and all bloggers, love to hear from passing readers, whevever they have time to spare - and something to say. :-)

That'll be an attractive shirt !

Louis Wain's cat faces you mean Raphael? Yes - it's rather scarey to see them change and fragment along with his mind. They do retain a certain fascination though, but I wouldn't want one of those on a shirt! ;-)

Kaleymorris said...

Purr! I dig the Steinlen cats. As if you didn't know.

Anonymous said...

I love reading your Arty pieces too.

Wain's early works very popular as Victorian postcards one still occasionally comes across.

Interestingly, recently I reread RD Laing's The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise - after 40 years! - and must say I really enjoy Wain's what my generation would have called 'pyschedelic' renditions of cats. Laing reminds us that madness may just as often lie in the eye of the beholder!

Twilight said...

Kaleymorris ~~ Thought so !

Twilight said...

Sabina ~~ Hi there!

Oh yes, those old postards would have been an ideal medium for displaying Wain's illustrations.
I'll look out for some of them when we're next wandering around an antique shop.

The later paintings have a distinctly psychedelic flavour don't they, especially the last one, and there are others similar. I guess that LSD did intentionally and temporarily to the brain what happened "naturally" and permanently to Wain. That his artistic talent survived it all though is intriguing.

anyjazz said...

Good post. The Chat Noir is a well known poster and image.

Odd that sometimes we accept these images as iconic without crediting the artist. This one is probably as well-known as the Lautrec Moulin Rouge posters.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~ Yes. The poster has become iconic (I theorise) because it appeals to the trillions and trillions of cat lovers world-wide. It depicts a cat with style and grace, so befitting of the species. ;-) (And a black cat at that, so has "lucky" connotations too).

I like the one next to last below the post. It reminds me a lot of Alphonse Mucha's style of Art Nouveau (one of my all-time faves).

Twilight said...

anyjazz - Forgot to add - agreed that artists' names are oft forgotten - rather in the same way that songwriters' names are oft forgotten - as discussed recently.

Astrology Unboxed said...


My inner cat is happy :). Thank you for the lovely post and for helping rediscovering the artist behind the posters of the "Chat Noir" cabaret. The picture have become so trivial that we often forget the art behind it.

Twilight said...

Astrology Unboxed ~~ Hi Fabienne - glad you enjoyed the post and illustrations. Cats are great subjects, whether styled as whimsical or majestic. Real life cats can manage to be both at the same time, I believe. :-)

Unknown said...

I had not heard of Louis Wain before this. His story is very interesting, and now I'll look for more of his catwork. I, too, bought a chat noir shirt in Arles this year. Everyone should spend a week or two in Paris and then take a riverboat down the Rhone. It's gorgeous!

Twilight said...

Unknown ~~ Hi thanks for visiting and commenting.
Paris and the Rhone trip will have to wait for my next lifetime, I fear. I spent a half day in Paris once, on my way to Tours and the chateaux of the Loire but was in too much of a hurry to enjoy the capital's atmosphere, or to even detect the alleged magic of it. :-)