You’ve probably often heard the expression Freudian slip. No one knows who coined the phrase but it wasn’t Sigismund Freud the founding father of psychoanalysis who, in his book, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, published in 1901, concluded that the examples contained in it revealed thoughts, wishes and beliefs of the unconscious mind.
Freud was born on 6 May 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia (then in Austria and now part of the Czech Republic). His father, Jakob, was a three times married wool merchant, had two children from an earlier marriage and was aged 41 when Sigismund (the eldest of seven siblings) appeared. Financial difficulties prompted the family’s move to Vienna in 1857 where Freud was raised. Golden Siggie, as his mother fondly called him, was her favourite child.
Freud got engaged to the lovely Martha Bernays two months after meeting her; they were married four years later in 1886 and had six children. Soon after qualifying as a Doctor (he was a brilliant student) he established his own private practice specialising in nervous disorders. The death of his father caused him to undertake a rigorous self-analysis and exploration of his own childhood memories and dreams umzugsfirma wien. This prompted him to write The Interpretation of Dreams that, when published in 1899, attracted widespread interest and a host of supporters.
For many years the Freud family home was an apartment at Berggasse 19 near Vienna’s historical quarter. The private practice grew apace and he counted amongst his eminent patients the composer Mahler and the wealthy Princess Marie Bonaparte. In 1930, the Goethe Prize was awarded to him in recognition of his contribution to psychology and to German literary culture. In January 1933, the Nazi regime gained control of Germany and Freud’s publications were amongst those it banned and burned. Freud reacted by joking “What progress we are making! In mediaeval times they’d have burned me. Now they’re content with burning my books”. Even when the Nazis annexed Austria in March 1938 and violent acts of anti-Semitism ensued, Freud refused to leave Vienna. Eventually, in summer 1938, he recognized he was at grave risk if he stayed and Princess Marie Bonaparte played a major part in securing the family’s exit from Austria to London. Despite her best efforts Freud’s four sisters were denied exit visas and died in a Nazi concentration camp.
Number 20 Maresfield Gardens, a spacious, handsome red brick house with a charming garden located in leafy Hampstead, north London became the Freud’s new family home in exile remaining in the family until the death of Freud’s daughter, Anna (a pioneering child psychoanalyst) in 1982. It was she who decreed that in homage to her father it should become the Freud Museum.
Just to wander round the house and tred in the same footsteps as Freud, to see where this towering figure of the twentieth century lived and worked, albeit for just 15 months when he was frail, is an amazingly atmospheric experience that provides a strong personal dimension to the man and his work. The singular most evocative core of the house is the book-lined study, a faithful re-creation in Freud’s lifetime, of his Viennese consulting room complete with the famous couch covered with a throw- a decorative Persian rug – piled with squashy chenille cushions where patients reclined, just off centre from the chair where Freud sat and listened. On the desk lie his spectacles alongside rows of little ancient figures; his cherished collection of rare Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman and Eastern antiquities and other artefacts fill every inch of space and the floor is covered with richly patterned Oriental rugs.
In other rooms much loved household effects such as rustic Austrian painted country furniture and fine examples of Biedermeier tables, chests, cupboards and chairs shipped from the Freuds Viennese address, home movies narrated by Anna featuring family footage and their pet dog and documentaries about fleeing Vienna for London complete the sense of this being a homely and comfortable refuge where literary and artistic luminaries such as H.G. Wells, Virginia and Leonard Woolf and Salvador Dali were made welcome.
Ernst, architect son of Freud, re-configured some aspects of the house at his father’s request. French windows were introduced at one end of the study to maximum the passage of light and to render access to the lovely garden that gave immense joy to Freud and Anna at all seasons of the year. He was especially fond of the almond tree in the front garden that blossomed in spring, and was the first to spot snowdrops, daffodils and crocuses as they emerged. In the summer Freud would relax on a hanging sofa set up in the garden where he received guests. An open-sided, round roofed loggia was masterminded by Ernst with the intention of providing a sheltered exterior place. On Saturday 6th May 1939, Freud’s 83rd birthday, the weather was warm enough to host a birthday party in the garden.