The Sherlock star said he knew very little about the man who is best known for his paintings featuring anthropomorphized, large-eyed cats and kittens, often walking on their hind legs and engaging in activities such as dancing, reading and drinking tea from china cups.
He told the PA news agency: “I was really intrigued about this extraordinary artist whose images I had a sort of a faint flicker of recognition of in the back of my head, maybe on a wall somewhere in school, or institution or postcard or a museum.
“But not anything to do with his life, and the importance of what he achieved, and the sort of struggles and tragedy of some of his life, as well as the wit and humour and brilliance of it, so it was a real journey of discovery for me.”
The new film The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain chronicles the artist’s life, including his tragically short marriage to wife Emily, played by The Crown’s Claire Foy, who died in 1887, four years after their wedding.
It was with Emily that he adopted their beloved cat, Peter, who inspired his work. Wain also championed cats as domestic pets in Britain, and was involved with several animal charities.
Cumberbatch said of Emily: “She gave him an emotional landscape.
“She gave him the purpose and understanding of what he couldn’t understand without certain tools that are seen as normal.
“He was celebrated as someone who had purpose and an existence that was justifiable and should be enjoyed, as an artist and as a human being, through her encouragement.
“And it was definitely through her that the art flourished. It was definitely because of Peter coming into their lives as their surrogate child, in that time and that trauma, that he focused on cats.
“He showed so much more than just: ‘Oh, these animals should be taken seriously as domesticated pets’, which he did champion – of course, that’s historically what he did.
“But he was able to look at them as a prism for understanding the world he found difficult to be in, thanks to Emily.”
The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is released in UK cinemas on January 1 2022.