New Louis Wain exhibition at Bethlem Museum of the Mind | Press releases

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New Louis Wain exhibition at Bethlem Museum of the Mind

This winter, a new exhibition will explore the life and work of an artist who found fame by drawing cats and whose body of work is a vivid illustration of the links between animals and human wellbeing.

Animal Therapy: the Cats of Louis Wain will run from 4 December 2021 to April 2022 at Bethlem Museum of the Mind. Admission to the exhibition and Museum is free.

A pioneering museum at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust's Bethlem Royal Hospital, the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital, Bethlem Museum of the Mind celebrates the lives and achievements of those living with mental ill-health. The Museum, in Beckenham, south east London, occupies the hospital’s original 1930s administration building.

100 years ago, Louis Wain was a household name. His anthropomorphic cats were instantly recognisable and appeared constantly in books, magazines, on postcards and in his very popular annuals. Long considered eccentric by many, as Wain aged his mental health deteriorated and he was admitted to Springfield Hospital. Once people became aware of his circumstances, a public campaign saw Wain moving to the more salubrious surroundings of Bethlem Royal Hospital. While there, Louis Wain remained accomplished and prolific, producing many of the gleeful, contented, often outlandish and fantastical cats which will feature in the exhibition.       

The exhibition will include Cats’ Christmas, Carol Singing Cats and Cats with Plum Pudding – which Wain painted directly on to mirrors, as part of Christmas festivities at Bethlem. These extraordinary works remained within the Hospital when Wain left it in 1930 and have long been a prized part of the Museum’s collections.

Colin Gale, Director of Bethlem Museum of the Mind, said: “Bethlem has a genuinely unique, historic link to Louis Wain, his life and work and our exhibition brings together a carefully chosen selection of Wain’s work that has never been shown together before, and likely will not come together again. Visitors will be rewarded with a fascinating, vibrant and spirit-lifting show. Wain’s pictures made him a household name during his lifetime, and we hope to play our part in returning him to prominence.” 

Kate McCormack, Senior Drama therapist, Bethlem Royal Hospital, said, “Animals have always been known for their affinity to man. At Bethlem Royal Hospital, the Pets as Therapy programme has helped forge relationships between service-users and dogs, notably a Siberian husky named Tess. From offering unconditional affection, to aiding in confronting fears and phobias, pets can be a big part of a person’s recovery and journey to improved mental health. Animals can offer a very pure and unconditional relationship without demands or expectations.”

The exhibition opens around a month ahead of the UK cinema release of Will Sharpe’s forthcoming film The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, which follows Louis Wain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) from the late 1800s through to the 1930s, as he seeks to unlock the ‘electrical’ mysteries of the world. In so doing, Wain hopes to better understand his own life and the profound love he shared with his wife Emily Richardson (Claire Foy). 

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