Take a Plunge into the Unconscious at the Freud Museum
The phantoms of psychoanalysis still live within the walls of the perfectly preserved Freud Museum.
The fact that the grandfather of psychoanalysis spent his last year in London is not often talked about. In a way, we have the Nazi seizure of Austria in 1938 to thank for the ultimate emergence of Lucien Freud, one of the greatest British painters of all time. This is because Sigmund Freud and his family had to escape Nazi rule due to their Jewish heritage (although Freud was a firm atheist throughout his life he considered “his essential nature <to be> Jewish”). Ultimately, this twisted the roads of fate, re-directing the entire extended family to Britain, including Sigmund’s grandson Lucien. Although they had different family houses, the evidence of dislocation, the ability of man to build anew, and ultimately the success of cultural integration is clearly found in the Sigmund Freud Museum.
The museum was founded in 1986 under the instruction of Sigmund’s daughter Anna after her death. The strikingly recent date of launch is a reminder of how new the field of psychoanalysis is and how far medicine can progress within a mere two generations. The house was the family home of the Freuds, in which Sigmund wrote ‘Moses and Monotheism’ and spent his last days. He worked closely with his daughter, who was herself a pioneer of child therapy, carrying the intellectual family torch with the success of her own independent career after Sigmund’s death in 1939. The house was her life-long tie to London, conducting research and analysing patients there. A great signifier of the close relationship between father and daughter is the joint situation within the house of their analytic couches (which itself could be subjected to much Freudian analysis). In many respects, the museum should really be dedicated to Anna, especially as she wrote many of her pivotal works here including the famous “About Losing and Being Lost” in which she described the ‘simultaneous urges to remain loyal to the dead and to turn towards new ties with the living’, which accurately conveys the darkness of the voided shadow the death of her father, mentor and collaborator left behind. Thus, there is a haunting sadness about the museum when one realises the emotional struggles the very real occupants underwent in their time there. Although the museum is technically focused on the history of psychoanalysis, one cannot escape the fact that it has always been a family home. Moments of intimacy are revealed to the visitor as they explore the various rooms: family photographs, images of close colleagues, an alpine souvenir of the region they usually holidayed in hangs in the dining room, and a portrait of Sigmund by Salvador Dali rests in the landing. The dust seems to have barely settled and many of the plants originally planted by Sigmund continue to flourish and grow in the garden.
However, the real crescendo of the museum is the perfectly preserved study of Sigmund, complete with his collection of antique statues and famous chez longue in which his patients would free-associate. The famous space carries as much gravitas as to be expected: one is immediately greeting by the hundred eyes of ancient totems that produced much of the inspiration for Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious. The conversations that took place here are to some extent still continued in the many lectures, seminars, and evening courses offered by the museum. Previous titles of talks have included, ‘The Effectiveness of Symbols’, Mentilisation and the Unconscious’, and ‘Psychotherapy and Biography: Unnatural Bedfellows?’ As such, the practice within the house is still very much alive: there are rotating art exhibitions forever on display, as well as film festivals and other attractions to introduce laymen into the challenging yet mythic world of psychoanalysis.
The Feud Museum is located at 20 Maresfield Gardens, London, NW3 5SX
Open Wednesdays-Sundays 12pm-5pm
Nearest tube: Finchley Road.