He sketches cats by the dozen - often as gifts for his warders. The old man's internment had lasted just over a year when, by chance, the bookseller and ward visitor Dan Rider noticed a number of sketches and remarked to him:
"Good Lord, man, you draw like Louis Wain."
"I am Louis Wain."
"You're not, you know"
"But I am," said the artist. And he was.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Louis Wain had been perhaps the most visible artist in England: his irrepressible cats and their kittens - golfing, strolling, submitting unwillingly to the rigours of the classroom - could be seen on a thousand bedroom walls, in a thousand schools. The Louis Wain Annual was a perennial bestseller; his designs adorned countless postcards and filled the pages of newspapers, books and periodicals. The Wain cat was ubiquitous, prompting HG Wells to remark at a later date that "English cats that do not look like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves."
The son of a textile merchant, born of mixed French and English parentage in London, 1860, the young Wain was a sickly child, plagued by recurrent dreams and kept from mixing with others on medical advice. A virulent attack of scarlet fever at the age of nine left the boy oddly healthier, purged of his debilitating nightmares. Now an unruly, strong-headed child, Wain rarely attended school, preferring to wander the streets of London where he sought out factories and stood transfixed by the workings of their vast, intricate machineries. In his own words "strong and pugnacious and difficult to control", he roamed the countryside on illicit solitary excursions, climbing trees and collecting trophies.
Early enthused but dilatory studies in science, music and teaching were abandoned for illustration; the death of beloved wife Emily from a premature cancer and the need to provide for his five sisters impelled the already prolific artist to ever-higher levels of productivity. By 1890, Wain was famous and much loved, if hardly wealthy.
His aversion to business resulted in many unpaid reproductions of his work which increased the financial strain. In 1900, Wain's sister Marie, suffering from terrifying delusions, was committed to an institution.
Wain himself grew to believe that spirits were directing malign energies at him. Isolated in the family home in Kilburn, ruminating on his fantastic electrical theories, convinced that his sisters were seeking to undermine his well-being, he became violent and was confined. The last 15 years of his life were to be spent in asylums - Springfield, Bethlem, Napsbury - where his beloved cats grew ever stranger, ever more disquieting, ever more beautiful.
Louis Wain, artist, madman, visionary, died in 1939 and is buried, alongside his family in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green.