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Viva Cat Jesus! The Amazing Cat Behind Benedict Cumberbatch's New Biography

The piece, dubbed Cat Jesus by employees, may be discovered on a painted mirror at the Bethlem hospital's Museum of the Mind's archives. It was created by Louis Wain, a well-known cartoonist of comical cats and a Bethlem psychiatric hospital patient whose work is about to be displayed here.

Wain was invited to assist with the institution's Christmas decorations one year. He inquired as to whether he could paint on mirrors, and the results are still visible today. In Cat Jesus, a feline Father Christmas holds up a white kitten with a sunflower halo around its head in front of a Taj Mahal-like edifice in a dream jungle, as other cats greet the luminous progeny.

It seems to be sacred art for a new cat religion. That may also be seen in another image of a white cat staring at you, as if to say, "I am happy because everyone loves me." Wain had previously envisioned "a cat society," as his contemporary HG Wells phrased it.

He was a star of the golden era of British illustration, having been born in 1860. The Illustrated London News, for example, was a tremendously successful pictorial magazine that still employed drawings rather than photography. Wain portrayed cats doing human activities like cricket, tea, and attending to the doctor, and the pet-loving public went crazy for it.

However, as the upcoming Benedict Cumberbatch movie The Electrical Existence of Louis Wain reveals, these beloved pussycats did not provide him with a happy life. The milk was tainted by tragedy and financial catastrophe.

He began to suspect that electricity had an evil quality, and that his sisters were taking his money. He was declared mad in 1924 after assaulting them and spent the remainder of his life in asylums.

There are no longer any "asylums." Bethlem Royal Hospital is presently an NHS psychiatric hospital near Beckenham, on the suburbs of London, with large grounds. The open-access location includes a museum.

However, this institution was created in the Middle Ages and was not only one of the earliest asylums, but also the most renowned in the world, since it was known as Bedlam. In his picture The Rake in Bedlam, Hogarth presented it as a site of human tragedy and brutality, influencing Goya's madhouse scenes and, later, the Boris Karloff film Bedlam.

Founded in 1247, this dreaded location in London folklore first stood where Liverpool Street station now stands, then transferred to Moorfields following the Great Fire. It was relocated to Southwark in 1815, and the central, domed portion of the Victorian institution is now the Imperial War Museum.

It had two lengthy wings that led to the severely barred female and male criminal wards at one time. Wain was transported to this location. He spent five years at Bethlem and finally died in a hospital near St Albans in 1939. As a patient, he continued to sketch cats, but not in the traditional sense.

Wain's early cat drawings are clever and amusing. However, I consider his latter work, which has been labeled as schizophrenic, as art. A psychiatrist named Walter Maclay discovered eight of these later paintings in an antique store shortly after Wain's death and purchased them.

He analyzed them as a sequence in which we can perceive the disintegration of a mind, and they are still used as visual signs of schizophrenia in textbooks. It's simple to see what he meant when you look at four of the originals in the Bethlem museum's permanent collection.

The first is a "classic" Louis Wain cat, which is charming, smiling, and drawn with a lot of detail. In the next, a cat comprised of jagged pulsating red lines hovers in a radiating ether of blue and green, with large black hollow eyes. It resembles a 1960s trippy rendition of the Cheshire cat.

The following one is much crazier. The mask of a cat face is alone in darkness, blazing an unearthly blue, bordered with flames of red, orange, and green, something between an old Tibetan monster and a fractal design, much as Carroll's Cheshire cat leaves just its grin behind. The series' last cat is difficult to recognize as a cat. Its eyes are buried in a beautifully rich, complicated symmetry, reminiscent of a Turkish carpet with a concealed feline face.

Maclay was more interested in the science than the aesthetics. He utilized these works to delineate different levels of psychosis in the condition that he diagnosed Wain with: schizophrenia. It was a scientific blunder. While we're admiring these dramatic moggies, museum director Colin Gale and archivist David Luck explain that Maclay had no indication the drawings were part of a series or in what sequence they were done.

It's possible that the "first" one was made last. Wain depicted several weird and even frightening cats during his time in the institution, but he also drew his realistic amusing animals. "Any simplistic link between Louis Wain's illness and his creativity would be a stretch," Gale argues.

Wain's cats' transformation, on the other hand, seems to me to be a freedom. In his hospital years, this Victorian-born artist, who earned his name softly ridiculing imperial human norms, broke free from the tedious habits of mainstream British painting. He fled into crazy dreams of celestial felines in the gloomy freedom of his disease. He developed into an outsider artist.

While British psychiatrists used art as medical proof, Hans Prinzhorn, a German doctor, pioneered the revaluation of hospital prisoners' work as art. With his notion of art brut - "raw art," Jean Dubuffet eventually brought this adoration of such work into the mainstream of modernity.

Wain was not a modernist, but he was able to break free from the constraints of Victorian draughtsmanship at the institution. Looking over some of the pieces that will be on display at Bethlem, I find that his early, popular portrayals of cats doing hilarious human things are more unbalanced than his later visions: the "cat society" that Wells lauded is overcrowded with cats and brittle in its comedy.

He is considerably more liberated as an artist when he embraces his weird, hallucinogenic side.

We have no idea what ailment Wain had. Maclay's diagnosis of schizophrenia was based on supposition after the event. I started to wonder if the key to Wain's mental world is so obvious that it gets overlooked: his fascination with cats.

As I looked through a stack of Wain's art, from jolly cats sledding to cats that are eerie patterns of lurid color, I started to wonder if the key to his mental world is so obvious that it gets ignored: his fascination with cats. Because the sad cats he sketched in Victorian periodicals had a weird, almost suppressed quality about them. He was more freely embracing their status in art history and mythology as weird dream creatures when he depicted them in a more frightening manner.

When Wain began selling his paintings in the 1880s, he enchanted the world with charming animals. "What he communicated was a sense of joy," Gale adds. However, the cat has already been connected with sex, the night, and lunacy in art.

A cat is one of the horrible monsters that unthrone a man's rationality as he sleeps in Goya's print The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Edouard Manet's honest, unglamorized nude Olympia assailed Paris when Wain was a youngster.

Her black cat yells, arches its back, and prickles its fur at the courtesan's feet, creating a picture of eroticism and aggressiveness. Posters for the famed fin-de-siècle Paris cabaret Le Chat Noir featured such bizarre animals.

These horrific contemporary cats, on the other hand, are all great-grand-kittens of Egyptian art. Egyptian cats may be gently and artistically watched, but they are not the same as neighborhood cats. They have the status of gods. Bastet, a cat-headed goddess connected with both sex and maternity, and the Great Tom Cat, a form assumed by the sun god to defeat a world-devouring serpent, were among Ancient Egypt's feline divinities.

Gods of the sun? Goddesses of the womb? Wain's Christmassy cat messiah with a sunflower halo comes to mind.

His multicolored space kitties imply a beautiful cat religion. Perhaps he is creating his own mythology rather than merely describing lurid cat dreams in the institution.

Wain's early work depicts a logical feline world in which cats play cricket and have tea on an English village green instead of haunting the Paris night. It's the art of a guy keeping his miaowing demons under control. Later, in one of his more hallucinogenic pieces, he lets the cat out in the hospital.

Thanks to at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.

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