We Are Getting Quite Attached

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a bit of a break in the midst of many photo postcard posts, today I swerve a bit. As Pictorama readers know, a few months ago, on a trip to London, I opened the Louis Wain floodgates with the purchases of the book Merry Times and a newspaper holiday supplement page illustration. These purchases and accompanying adventures can be found in these  links, Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 1 and Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 2. At that point I predicted future Wain collecting and posts and the aforementioned recent trip to the NY postcard show proved my prediction accurate. Above is one of those purchases and the one of three Louis Wain postcards to enter my collection on that day.

First to say, as someone who has formed all of my collections just by following my nose and what I like, I find the high-end world of Louis Wain collectibles a bit intimidating. His card production evidently breaks into different publishers and periods, priced accordingly. I looked blankly at the dealer and confessed that I have no idea what these are, let alone the relative value therein – although obviously I do get the general arc of his production, descending and splintering eventually into insanity.

However, I have looked at enough of his work to know that I have preferences and, without being knowledgable about the specifics, in some ways this card sums up the period I believe I like best. In this card he is exhibiting full whacky sense of humor without having started to come apart at the seams. These roguish kitties, so proper in their demeanor, replete with pipe, cigar, umbrella, walking stick and perhaps the daily newspaper, find themselves unthinkingly, stuck on the wet paint of the recently painted boat bottom they lean on.  (It does bring to mind a very early memory I have, me a toddler and my mother painting the floor of the back porch a dark red. Our then cat Snoopy blithely walked across it and subsequently across the kitchen floor with those bright red wet paws! Snoopy was a placid and wonderful cat however – white with black cow spots and he easily survived my mother’s wrath. He was my very first cat and set the bar high for those that followed.)

There is something slightly maniacal and knowing in their cat faces, cheerful, yet peeved and knowing which is pure Wain. Where on earth did he get his ideas? Certainly the failings and idiosyncrasies of the participants has more to do with humans than felines, but somehow the slightly disturbed and thoroughly anthropomorphic cats convey it best.

I managed to navigate these first purchases, all from a single dealer, and the other acquisitions will have their turn in the spotlight in coming weeks. And meanwhile, I suspect many more Wain additions will follow in the future. After all, a cat card collector can hardly help herself.

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Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have been working up to a big Louis Wain post for a few weeks since my trip to London. I alluded briefly to my Wain purchases in my posts London Fog, Chapter 1 and London Fog: Chapter 2, a trip that was toy poor but provided other buying opportunities, it also most notably broke a long held prejudice I secretly harbored against acquiring Louis Wain associated artifacts.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, Mr. Wain (1860-1939) is attributed with single-handedly introducing comic, anthropomorphic cat drawings into world-wide post-Victorian popularity. Started as a drawings and sketches of their cat to entertain his ailing wife, who it seems was dying of breast cancer, these drawings quickly captured public imagination and catapulted him into a career that was almost exclusively devoted to cats. Over time the cats became more pop-eyed and decidedly more human, the humor more pointed, occasionally a bit dark. I have, in prior posts (most specifically Kitten Class), referred to some Victorian cats advertising that likely pre-dates and may have even informed him, but it would seem that it took Mr. Wain to launch the cat as comic subject into popular conscience. One article I read said that there was a time in Great Britain when virtually every home had a Louis Wain print – not unlike the prints of dogs playing poker of a later, American era.

Louis_Wain_The_bachelor_party

Louis Wain painting not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection, card playing cats just for fun!

 

Wain was hugely prolific – the same article claims that at the height of his career he was probably churning out more than 1,500 cat drawings annually. Given this, there certainly isn’t a dearth of Louis Wain art available today. Still, despite the vast number of prints, postcards, books, drawings and even sculptures, his work in every and any form fetches a huge premium, which explains one of the reasons I have been reticent to join the fray on the collecting front. However, I too have of course, always been entertained by them and have been tempted over time.

Also famously, Louis Wain eventually descends into insanity, but continues drawing, and his cats get quirkier and more abstract until they become a color psychedelic almost unidentifiable design. He is eventually institutionalized, but keeps producing drawings although I am unclear on the dissemination and publication of these.

I begin my Louis Wain odyssey with the purchase of this early print illustration I am sharing today. I purchased it on that dreadful snowy Friday morning I was spending near Leicester Square in a romantic mews I have always enjoyed. I was already realizing that the extreme weather was going to have a seriously negative impact on my limited free time in London however. I had a few hours before an afternoon meeting and I started with a print store I have spent many hours in over the years. My memory was that at one time, in contrast to the nice and pricey matted objects in trays upstairs, that there used to be boxes with scraps of old prints and even the occasional book, in the basement. If it was that store, or a similar one nearby that has gone out of business I am unsure. Regardless, the proprietor had made his way to work that morning, and when I discovered this item in the basement (sans boxes of lower end items) I decided to break the self-imposed Wain ban and reward the seller for his efforts to open his shop by purchasing this item.

This clipping, a page from a large publication, is identified as Christmas Number of the Sporting and Dramatic News, December 3, 1892. I am told that his break through illustration was sold as a Christmas drawing in 1884 and that it was two more years after that before he illustrated his first children’s book. This would put this illustration eight years after that first illustration sold, but before he achieves his later best known, more broadly comic style.

With the title, What’s This? and identified as L. Wain he perfectly captures the curiosity of these kitties eyeing this insect. He has signed the image itself and there is another mark I cannot make out which I assume is the engraver’s. I like the limited use of color which gives this a bit of warm and brings out the image. However, most of all, I like the little claws emerging on each of the kits! Cats #3 and #4 (in line, left to right) are emerging toward full blown Louis Wain style. All eyes are on that bug which is slated to be a snack for one of these fellers if he doesn’t skitter fast! For comparison, below is a later painting of a similar theme I snatched off the internet. Cats and bugs have legs as a subject.

louis_wain_for_what_cat_print.jpg

Louis Wain painting, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection, spiders remained a theme!

 

The tale of my purchases, more about my antipathy toward buying Louis Wain memorabilia and other strange tributaries of this story to be continued in subsequent installments. Pictorama readers take note!

 

 

Push Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This was a book I took out of the library only once as a child, but never forgot. My memory of the copy I saw did not have the slip jacket cover, nor an illustrated cover at all. Somehow I stumbled on it, undoubtably the title, and dragged it home with me. The illustrations were magnificent and those are what I remembered.

If we fast forward to years later, Kim and I were comparing notes on the illustrator Garth Williams. We both love his illustrations – for me A Cricket in Times Square topped even Charlotte’s Web for memorable illustrations cherished from childhood. This book, Push Kitty, nagged at the back of my mind although I do not believe I remember that the illustrations were by Garth Williams, only that they were in that style and had been great. By then the miracle of the internet was well upon us. Sure enough, between eBay and a used book site (one later absorbed whole by Amazon) I had a few copies to choose from. To my joy, I quickly became the owner of this deaccessioned library copy. Kim’s recent Facebook posts about Gustaf Tanggren and a book he remembered fondly (but like me, never owned) called Cowboys and Indians made me think about pulling this one out. There is a lot to be said about Garth Williams that I will save for a future post, but it should be noted that Push Kitty was originally published in 1968 which means it was only a few years old when I would have seen it, probably in the early seventies.

When I read it again I realized why I had loved it so much as a child! In addition to the illustrations, the story, written by Jan Wahl, is about a little girl who dresses up her kitty (much to his obvious displeasure) and drives him around town, showing him off in a baby carriage. Since I too liked to try to dress my wriggling cat Snoopy (who was very dignified; in retrospect it must have really, deeply displeased him) in doll clothes and try to persuade him to stay in a small, tin baby carriage, I clearly identified with the story.

Kitty starts out all fluff and sweet adorableness, Kitty White is his name, and gets more and more annoyed as he is taken about and shown off. He returns to a fluff ball cuteness as he races away once the doll clothes have been removed at the end. Williams does a splendid job of drawing a cat frowning and in all his moods!

Presented below is a sampling of illustrations from the book.

Push Kitty 1   Push Kitty 2

Push Kitty 3   Push Kitty 4