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Sigmund Freud's couch (c) The Freud Museum

Quirky London: the Freud Museum

20 October 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

The work of Sigmund Freud is still of central importance to thinking in the 21st century. What you may not know however, is that Freud lived in London for the last year of his life. His house, now a museum, gives you an opportunity to spend some time in an historic building, as well as learning more about the life and death of one of the world’s most important thinkers.

20 Maresfield Garden is situated on a quiet residential street near Finchley Road station. This beautiful Victorian house, with its double front and small front garden, does not belie its historical importance, home as it was to Sigmund Freud between 1938 and 1939, the last year of his life. Freud moved here with his daughter Anna, at the age of 82. For 47 years, Freud
had lived at Berggasse 19 in Vienna, Austria, but with the rise of the Nazis, his life was in increasing danger. In 1933, Freud’s books were publicly burned, and from then on he was consistently harassed by the regime. When Austria was annexed by the Third Reich, leading to threats against Freud and his family, he decided he finally had to emigrate.   A timeline in the museum reveals that four of Freud’s siblings died soon after him in concentration camps around Europe.  Though the timeline is only a small image, painted on a wall in the upstairs hallway, this information about Freud and his extended family underscores the museum with a feeling of urgency; who knows what would have happened if Freud hadn’t come to England? What would be left of his legacy?


The Freud Musuem (c) The Freud Musuem

This urgency sits by side with the excitement of being in the same house that Freud was once in, the house where his daughter, the esteemed child psychoanalyst, lived and worked until her death in 1982.  Anna wanted the house to be turned into a museum, and it was opened to the public in 1986.  Now, the museum is home to Freud’s carefully maintained study, as well as Anna’s room, along with smaller exhibits, a rolling video that gives the house some additional context, and a well-stocked bookshop. They also host regular installations; until the 26th of November, they host The Genesis Speech, by Toby Ziegler. Taken from a scene in a Lindsay Andersen film, Britannia Hospital, these installations use the motif of a hand created through 3D sculpture, and are placed around the house.


Toby Ziegler The Genesis Speech (c) Courtesy the Artist and Freud Museum London

For anyone who has read Freud, the study will be of extreme importance to your visit.  It has been left exactly as he arranged it, also echoing how he had arranged his study in his apartment in Vienna.  When Freud left Austria, he was sponsored by Princess Marie Bonaparte, a wealthy psychoanalyst often credited with Freud’s popularisation worldwide.  Her financial support allowed Freud to bring over many of his possessions, including some of his substantial book collection, his assortment of antiquities, as well as the famous analytic couch. This couch, where Freud’s patients would lie down and where the ‘talking therapy’ would occur, is decorated with thick rugs and velvet pillows.  The walls are filled with the books Freud brought with him; a careful perusal will reveal the scope of his reading, particularly his love of literature.  The most striking thing about this room is the display of antique figures on every spare surface and in glass cabinets. Freud was an avid collector of figurines from ancient civilisations, such as Greece and Egypt.  Arranged on his desk, almost obscuring his green chair from view, are statues of various Egyptian gods.  Archaeology was a key metaphor in psychoanalysis, and from this collection, it is clear why: Freud surrounded himself with objects of antiquity, as if to remind himself of the presence of what is old, lost and buried in life.

This house, however, is not just dedicated to the memory of Freud, but also his daughter Anna.  Anna was extremely close to her father, and was in psychoanalysis with him on and off throughout her early life. Though she trained as a teacher, she eventually became a lay analyst; in 1927 she published Introduction to the Technique of Child Analysis, which started off an important career, pioneering child psychoanalysis.  Many of her personal effects are on display, such as jewellery given to her by her father – including a ring he gave to those who were a member of his secret society – as well as her typewriter and her analytic couch. 

Freud and his family were of crucial importance to intellectual circles in 20th century, and other well-known names are scattered through the house. In the study, poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D) is quoted as she discusses her experience of analysis with Freud and in the hallway hangs a picture of Freud in his last few months, created by Salavador Dali, a huge fan of psychoanalysis. The museum is still hosts events, talks and courses, as well as meetings by various psychoanalytic organisations. 

This house is important, not just because of its contribution to London history and as a testament to its famous residents, but also because of the stark reminder it gives attendees about the impact of the holocaust. Freud’s presence in London marks his absence from Vienna, the city that was his home throughout his life.  It also provides an attendee the opportunity to think about the immeasurable impact Freud had on critical thinking, medical practice and art. 
 
The Freud Museum is in Hampstead. Tickets are £8.
 
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