Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who have been following this tale, today I wrap up the Louis Wain story with this entry (for now anyway – I feel more collecting coming on in this area now that I have started, but more of that to follow) with an interesting tributary of his work, the ceramics. I am going to break a Pictorama ground rule today, and please know that none of the glorious items I am abundantly illustrating today’s post with is in my collection – they are pulled entirely from the internet, many from previous auction posts. A girl can dream however!
For some background, although I had not collected Louis Wain as such I had, of course, long been a fan of his whacky cat imagery, mostly via postcard reprints of his work at its height, made widely available in a reproduced postcard line I remember as being available in the 1980’s. While I did not collect them as such, I did purchase them for use (yes, I actually used to routinely send postcards in those days) and at one time certainly had a number of them lying around.
So when I met Kim and cat item collecting became a topic of conversation between us, I certainly knew who he was talking about when he intrigued and beguiled me with Louis Wain’s bio of descending into insanity, cat illustrations becoming wilder and more abstract over time. But then, being Kim, he topped it off with another amazing story. As Wain’s cats became less realistic, at one point they even became Cubist, executed in the form of sculptures or vases. And, furthermore, that many if not virtually all were lost in shipwreck! There was something about them being Czech. (He may have said that they were on the Lusitania when it was lost, but don’t hold me to that.)
Now folks, this was in the days before the internet and Google in the palm of our hands in the form of what we now think of as a phone. It was a marvelous story. My imagination raced crazily with mental images of what these might have looked like. Oh my! The tragedy of a splendid cat bounty that was never to be known! I fantasized that some day the wreck would be raised and somehow many of the objects recovered whole, auctioned and made public. (Made mine…) The story has lived vividly in my head for decades.
So finally, the other day as I began gathering information for the first two parts of this post, at long last I Googled both the story and the ceramics. I was not disappointed. To my great fascination, a fair number of these ceramics exist, and while very expensive, are collected today. In addition to cats, there are (sans explanation) dogs and pigs – and these do not disappoint. While I may have imagined these sculptures one degree more abstract, and for some reason not so brightly colored, I was pretty close with my mental image of them. They are however, if anything, better than I imagined.
And, it turns out that the story of the shipwreck and loss of a significant shipment of them from England is also true – although not on the Lusitania and they were produced both in Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, in the teens. Fakes have evidently plagued the market at various times – meanwhile, I am sure I wouldn’t mind owning one of those either. One article I read said that had the shipment reached the United States (which, unlike Britain, had a discerning consumers who, even at the time, had a voracious appetite for these particular offbeat items) it might have staved off, or at least delayed, the impoverishment Wain suffered at the end of his life, ending sadly in asylums, but still producing cat drawings. It is all a very Deitchian tale, with only slight embellishment, and now you know one of the many reasons why being married to Kim Deitch is so much fun.
Meanwhile, those of you who know me are wondering by this time, how could price alone have swayed me from adding Louis Wain to my routine collecting? After all, I am the woman who has brought you my indulgences ranging from rare Aesop Fable dolls (Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) to Mickey Mouse toys the size of a toddler (Big Mickey) that I have crammed into our tiny apartment and paid admittedly obscene amounts of money for over time. At this point, I sheepishly admit that has been a foolish kernel of jealousy that has been at the root of it these many years.
I remind long-time Pictorama readers of an early post, Mine, all mine…at long last, where I gloried in obtaining a long sought after photo of the Aesop Fable dolls I adore. A copy of that photo had passed through Kim’s hands to a woman he lived with for a number of years and it gnawed gently at the back of my brain for years until I acquired my own copy. The same former girlfriend of Kim’s also collected Louis Wain items, primarily postcards. He mentioned this casually, early into our relationship, probably as a part of the broader Louis Wain tale. Kim had in fact purchased one or two of the original postcards for her as gifts over time. While admittedly, this seems a bit embarrassing and ridiculous as my adored Mr. Deitch and I are well into our second decade together, somehow I did not wish to have him associate her with my collecting. Then I guess I just never got around to lifting the prohibition and purchasing Louis Wain until this recent trip to London. Petty jealousy is like that and now I realize how silly that is – and will let the Louis Wain buying begin at long last.