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Before cat memes, there was Louis Wain—meet the artist who made moggies into works of art

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Louis Wain published his own "cat" annuals for nearly two decades. Photograph: Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Louis Wain published his own "cat" annuals for nearly two decades. Photograph: Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Everyone loves cats and everyone loves paintings of cats—so the film The Electrical Life of Louis Wain starring Benedict Cumberbatch (out now in the US and on 1 January in the UK) should please all pussy lovers keen to know more about the little-known artist whose drawings of lovable kittys made him a star of the Victorian era. “Wain drew cats doing human things—playing cricket, taking tea, going to the doctor—and the pet-loving public lapped it up,” writes Jonathan Jones in the Guardian.

Wain was indeed responsible for rebranding the animals, making people see them anew as cuddly pets rather than feral ratcatchers. But Wain suffered for his art, ending up in a series of psychiatric hospitals including Bethlem Royal Hospital at Beckenham, outside London. The Bethlem Museum of the Mind, located on the hospital site, is hosting an exhibition of Wain’s works such as Two Cats with a Doll Kitten (around 1930). “Animal Therapy: The Cats of Louis Wain (until 14 April) reintroduces the public to the resplendent work of this lately overlooked figure,” says the museum website (head down for a purr-fect day out).

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