Sigmund Freud, Austrian Jew and renowned psychoanalyst, fled the Nazis and arrived in London in 1938. Until his death the following the year he lived in a large house in North London, just off Finchley Road and not far from Finchley Road underground station.
After his death, his daughter Anna remained in the house and carried on with her own work as a psychoanalyst. The house became a museum after her death in 1982.
I visited on a rainy autumn morning. I stepped through the blue front door to a warm welcome and a much brighter atmosphere than the one outside.
Although the house is filled with information panels and exhibition cases (and tourists), it still feels very much like a home. The house is a mix of how it was when Sigmund lived there (his study has been preserved as it was during his lifetime) and how it was over the next 40 years when Anna lived there along with the changes that have been made as it was adapted into a museum.
Here is some of what you can see on a visit.
The entrance hall has Freud’s overcoat displayed in a glass case – that man you can see standing in the middle of the hall is looking at it – but I couldn’t get a good picture of it. It looked very small.
The bright red and white pole is part of a modern art exhibition called ‘The Breathing House’ by Bharti Kher. There were exhibits like this all over the house.
This was the dining room, but is now an exhibition space. On the wall opposite the sculptures there are a lot of information panels about Freud, his life, family and works.
He came to Britain as a refugee fleeing the Nazis and found a welcome here as did so many others in his situation. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened to him now. He’d probably be stuck in a ‘Jungle’ camp somewhere on the continent with little or no hope of surviving.
To the right off the entrance hallway is Freud’s study. It’s spread over two rooms and runs the full length of the house. This part is at the back of the house overlooking the garden. You can see his desk with its line of ancient figurines and the famous couch. When he left Vienna he realised he would never return and so brought all his possessions with him, including his couch.
This is the other side of the room. The white figure with the hole in his chest is part of the art exhibition, everything else belonged to Freud. He collected antiquities from Egypt, Rome, Greece and the Orient and around 2,000 of them are displayed on shelves and tables and in cases.
The couch is covered with a Persian rug. Freud’s patients would lie on the couch and be invited to freely share whatever thoughts came to mind, regardless of how appropriate, coherent or random they were. Freud believed this ‘free association’ would reveal what was hidden in the deep subconscious.
The lady sat near the couch is part of the modern art exhibition.
The line of figurines on his desk was strategically placed to partially block the view he and his patient would have of each other. This was to help the patient feel less intimidated.
The part of the study at the front of the house is lined with bookshelves containing some of Freud’s many books and more artifacts.
These shelves and cases are in the front part of his study. His library contained books on science, medicine, literature, art and archaeology.
At the midway point on the stairs is this landing. Freud’s wife and/or daughter (I can’t remember which) used to like to sit here with a pot of tea. It is a lovely place, nice and light and with a view over the street and although it’s just part of the staircase it’s almost as big as my living room. I’ve seen pictures of it with a small table and a couple of chairs, but I assumed these had been removed to make room for the art installation that is hanging from the ceiling.
This begonia on the window sill is apparently descended from Freud’s own begonia.
Anna’s study can be found upstairs. As well as displays of her belongings there is also information about her life and work.
I remember having a typewriter like this. Although I much prefer using a computer I wish I still had my old typewriter. Just to look at now and again. And to clunk the keys.
One of the back rooms has old films of Freud on a constant loop. You can get a nice view of the back garden from this room too. Because the light has to be kept low this is the only room with the curtains open.
Another of the upstairs rooms has information panels and a replica couch. With an invitation to have a lie down. How many museums can you go to where you get invited to have a lie down? Of course it had to be done.
After my rest I went back downstairs and gazed at Freud’s study a bit longer. All those books, all those artifacts, that desk … it’s my dream room.
I wasn’t able to go into the garden because of the rain, but the lady in the shop let me open the conservatory door and get a picture. It looks like it would be a nice place to sit for a while on a more amenable day.
Have you been to the Freud Museum? Would you like to visit? Share your thoughts in the comments below.