A visit to Freud’s House in London

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I guess everyone has heard of Sigmund Freud, even most of us really don’t have much idea of what psychoanalysis is about. He spent most of his life in Vienna, but in 1938 he left and fled to England to escape from the Nazis. Some of the other members of his family weren’t so lucky – four of his five sisters died in Nazi concentration camps.

Soon after his arrival in England he moved to 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead. He didn’t live there for long, as he died from mouth cancer on 23 September 1939. His daughter Anna, who followed in her father’s footsteps and became a noted psychoanalyst and was founder of psychoanalytic child psychology, who never married, continued to live in the house until her death in 1982.  Here he welcomed many notable visitors, including Salvador Dali, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and H.G. Wells. Today the house is a museum devoted to his memory and we paid a visit while we were staying in Hampstead a couple of weeks ago

Walking down from our hotel near Belsize tube station we passed this statue of Freud outside the Tavistock Centre, an NHS facility devoted to mental health.

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Maresfield Gardens is typical “leafy Hampstead”. A mainly residential street of large houses (many seemed to be converted into flats) lined with trees. As I’d expect for Hampstead, the residents must be pretty well off as I’ve never seen so many BMWs, Audis and ugly 4 x 4’s parked up on the street.

Freud’s former home is a large pre-WW2 Queen Anne style, red brick, double fronted, detached house with the front door in a large protruding central bay. There was a pleasant garden at the back where we were able to sit down for a little while with a brew before we explored the house.

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The conservatory overlooking the garden was built as a logia for Freud to sit in so he could look over the garden and was designed by his son, Ernst, who was an architect (more about him in a forthcoming post)

We weren’t allowed to take photos in the house, but there are pictures of the interior on the museum’s website.

The most interesting room in the house was the study. Freud was able to bring over many of his possessions from Vienna and in this room he recreated his study from his apartment at Berggasse 19, which, today, is also a museum devoted to him. The centrepiece is his psychoanalytic couch which was covered with oriental rugs and chenille cushion. We discovered that while his patients lied on the couch he would sit behind them where they could not see him – he is reported as saying "I cannot let myself be stared at for eight hours daily". As he listened he didn’t make notes as he believed that this prevented him from concentrating on what they were saying. He must have had a remarkable memory!

The study is full of books and a large number of archaeological specimens. He had a keen interest in archaeology and visited many archaeological sites. The pieces in the collection were mainly acquired from dealers in Vienna.

Today the curtains on the study’s windows are kept firmly closed to protect the contents that could be damaged by sunlight. When Freud lived here they would have been open during the day and he could look out over the garden while he worked at his desk.

One of the upstairs rooms was mainly devoted to his daughter Anna who lived in the house for many years.The exhibits included her “enemy alien” registration certificate and the certificate given to her when she was awarded her OBE. I thought that this was quite ironic.

I was pleased to see that a blue plaque dedicated to Anna was given equal prominence to that commemorating her father on the front of the house.

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One of the upstairs rooms is a gallery used for temporary exhibitions. During our visit an exhibition (Saying It) of videos and installations by Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker and Renate Ferro was about to open. There were video screens showing tableaux based on Freud’s most famous cases scattered throughout the house. I watched a number of them but I’m not a big fan of this type of art and they weren’t particularly to my taste.

Beside the temporary exhibitions, there are a number of works of art on display in the house. These include several portraits and sculptures of Freud himself. I particularly liked the sketch by Dali hung at the top of the stairs.

One of the things I found particularly interesting during the visit was the information about his family. There was a display of his family tree and also some “home movies” were showing in one of the rooms upstairs. As well as learning about the fate of his sisters and his children and grand children, many of whom have made their own mark on British culture, (they’re a particularly remarkable family), we discovered that he had two older half brothers from his father’s first marriage who had emigrated to Manchester. One of them died falling from a train at Parbold, which is only 10 miles from my patch, on a journey from Manchester to Southport.

Although I’m not really a fan of Freud’s ideas, I enjoyed visiting the museum. It was interesting to learn about his life and family and to see a recreation of a Vienna apartment in his typical English suburban house.

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5 thoughts on “A visit to Freud’s House in London

  1. Pingback: Modernist houses in Hampstead | Down by the Dougie

  2. Pingback: A Visit to The Freud Museum in London « miladysboudoir

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