16 November 2013
Famous for his humorous portrayal of cats, English Edwardian artist Louis Wain battled with mental illness throughout his life. Pictured here are six cats he painted, which psychiatrist Walter Maclay arranged into a series (top left to bottom right) that in his view illustrated Wain’s deterioration. Whether Wain (1860-1939) suffered from the disorder we now call schizophrenia (a term first used in 1908) is still a matter for debate. However, a biological explanation linking creativity and mental illness is beginning to emerge. One example includes a variant of the neuregulin 1 gene. In humans this is linked to psychosis, but it also correlates with creativity in people of high intellectual and academic ability. This observation, while helping to dispel some of the myths surrounding mental illness, may go some way to explaining why psychotic disorders prevail across generations.
Written by Brona McVittie
Original images by Louis Wain
This work is in the public domain in the European Union
Research published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, June 2008