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Two Men and Eight Cats: Louis Wain, Walter Maclay and the Kaleidoscope Cats

In December, we were lucky to have Dr David O’Flynn, consultant psychiatrist at the Lambeth and Maudsley Hospitals and Chair of the Adamson Collection, to give a talk on the so-called “Kaleidoscope Cats”, about which we have blogged previously. An edited version of Dr O’Flynn’s talk is now up on the SLaM You Tube Channel, and can be watched below. It provides a fitting conclusion to our Louis Wain exhibition, which ends this week.

In his talk, Dr O’Flynn discussed the connections between Louis Wain and Dr Walter Maclay (1902 – 64). Maclay found the eight “kaleidoscope cat” paintings in a junk shop in Notting Hill and, in 1939, wrote to a friend about how fascinating they were. The doctor believed that the images fitted the contemporary understanding of psychotic deterioration: as Wain’s mental health declined, so he became less able to represent cats coherently.

However, as Dr O’Flynn recognises, the paintings are still beautiful. While Wain certainly had a breakdown, and his work did change – in many ways becoming more experimental – it is hard to describe the pictures as deteriorated. Indeed, the colourful nature of these detailed works perhaps renders them more artistic in some ways than much of Wain’s earlier, more illustrative work.