One of the largest single-owner collections of Louis Wain (1860-1939) ceramics was offered at Kinghams (25% buyer’s premium) in Moreton-in-Marsh on October 6.
The private collection, amassed over many years by a Cotswold-based enthusiast, comprised a vast array of Wain’s pottery and porcelain felines sold in 29 lots.
Long admired in the cat collecting sphere, Wain’s popular profile has grown with the 2021 movie The Electric Life of Louis Wain. Benedict Cumberbatch played the role of the troubled genius who did much to amuse Victorian and Edwardian Britain and normalise the ownership of cats as pets.
The Kinghams collection focused on Wain’s avant-garde ceramics rather than his paintings and drawings. These included eight of the desirable Futurist or Cubist cats created at a time when the Futurism movement was burning at its brightest. One of these makes a brief appearance in the 2021 film.
These characters were first exhibited in 1914 as part of a menagerie of geometric animals which numbered nine cats, a pig, and a dog. Wain gave them names such as the Lucky Futurist Cat or the Lucky Haw Haw Cat.
None were produced in any great quantity. They were made in Europe and in England during two periods of production either side of the First World War. Famously, a shipment carrying some of the early output to the US was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
The current auction record for a Louis Wain ceramic is the £8500 ($10,400) bid at Kinghams in May 2022 for a Lucky Mascot Cat. This large-scale 12in (30cm) vase made by the Amphora factory c.1919 is modelled sitting upright with the ‘meow meow’ musical notes common to many of Wain’s cats moulded to the body.
The examples offered here were smaller-scale models, typically around 5in (13cm) or 6in (15cm) high, made for the London ceramics retailer Max Emanuel & Co.
However, against modest estimates of around £500 each, the Lucky Egyptian Cat with pointed ears and red and green stripes hammered for £3600 and a Lucky Knight Errant Cat, modelled with shield and feathered helmet, brought £3000.
A Lucky Futurist Cat with tongue out and paw raised took £2600, while the Lucky Sphinx Cat modelled as a Cubist Egyptian figure vase hammered for £2200.
All were in decent condition, although with signs of the flaking paint that is typical of these models.
Alongside the Futurist vases was a set of four of the comical Laughing Cats created for Wilkinson’s Royal Staffordshire Pottery in the 1930s, each with a different coloured bowtie. Those in the orange and yellow ties were most popular, selling at £420 and £320 respectively.
A large selection of transfer-printed nursey wares made by Paragon China were offered in group lots averaging out at around £50 per piece.
Sold at £300 were three Tinker Tailor series plates decorated with a scene titled The Aeroplane Journey c.1916, while £400 was bid for a trio of tea wares: a covered milk jug and a cream jug printed with A Fine Catch and a sugar basin with His Mother’s Present.
The buyers of the cats were all from the UK.