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Exploring the Work of 19th-Century Psychedelic Cat Painter Louis Wain

The Internet loves nothing more than cats, but it’s rare that we look beyond the cute photos and memes to more seriously consider their place in our world. Flavorwire’s Highbrow Cat Week is an attempt to remedy that, with a series of pieces devoted to analyzing their impact on the cultural realm.

Plenty of artists have attempted to capture the spirit of the humble housecat over the years, but no one’s ever done so in a manner quite so compellingly idiosyncratic as Louis Wain. Born in 1860, Wain was well known in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for his anthropomorphic depictions of cats, but the most interesting thing about his work from a modern perspective is the way that it grew gradually weirder as his career progressed. Fairly naturalistic in his early years, his style became decidedly more… well, psychedelic as Wain got older.

Quite why this is remains the subject of much debate. There’s some disagreement as to whether he was schizophrenic, but whether or not this was the case, it seems clear that he suffered some sort of mental illness — as his work got weirder, so did his behavior, and he was eventually institutionalized. Whatever the case, he remains an enduringly fascinating figure — he’s the subject of a recent biography, and Nick Cave is a big collector of his work. Click through the gallery below to see the evolution of Wain’s art over the years, and watch it get stranger and stranger.

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