When you think of Sigmund Freud, you might imagine him sitting with a patient in his Berggasse consultation room in Vienna. But did you know that Freud spent the last year of his life in Hampstead, a residential neighbourhood in the North West of London?
This area has regularly attracted intellectuals and artists such as the poet John Keats, the writer George Orwell, the painter John Constable and the actress Elizabeth Taylor. It was in Hampstead that Freud spent the last years of his life.
Freud fled from his native Austria with his family a few months after the arrival of the Nazis in Vienna. He was exhausted when he arrived in London in June 1938 after a short transit from Paris. He first settled in a temporary house at 39 Elsworthy Road in Primrose Hill and later moved to 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead. He lived in this family home for less than a year until his death on 23 September 1939.
It was his son, Ernst, a modernist architect already well established in London, who found this charming Queen Ann style house build in the 1920s. He renovated the house to adapt it to the professional needs and health of his father. He demolished two walls in the ground floor to build a big room to be used as an office, a consultation room, a library and a living room. This room leads to the lovely garden where Freud celebrated its 83rd birthday, his last one with his family and friends.
Anna, Freud’s daughter and the youngest of his six children, was very close to her father and lived in the same house with him until his death. She was also a psychoanalyst but she specialized in the treatment of children and had her office on the first floor. Before her death in 1982, Anna decided to transform the house into a museum showcasing the work and interests of her father. The Freud Museum opened its doors to the public in 1986.
Freud was a very enthusiastic collector of archaeological artefacts. He had pieces of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Middle Age and Asian art displayed in his office in Vienna and managed to bring them with him to England when he fled. For Freud, archaeology represented a metaphor of psychoanalysis. He explained that, “The psychoanalyst, like the archaeologist with his excavations, must reveal the psyche of his subject, layer by layer, before reaching the most precious treasure buried deeply.”
When visiting the museum, you can see in his consultation room (which has remained unchanged since his death), hundreds of artefacts collected during his various trips to archaeological sites abroad and antiques shops in Vienna. Being the presence of these artefacts, creates an extraordinary atmosphere, a spiritual experience in this unique venue. However, Freud declared that his passion as an antiques collector was second after his addiction to nicotine. One could always see him with a cigar in his mouth. He suffered from cancer, had more than 30 operations and had to wear prostheses in his mouth.
Notwithstanding his illness, his age and the stress of the move, Freud continued his work in London and completed his book, Moses and Monotheism and wrote “An Outline of Psycho-Analysis.” Freud’s extensive library is fascinating and a testament of the extraordinary mind and curiosity of this man. Amongst these books, one can not only find numerous professional titles on psychoanalysis, medicine and psychology but also various books on art, literature, archaeology, philosophy and history. His famous couch from Vienna covered by an Iranian carpet still sits in the room.
Freud had many visitors to his home in Hampstead: family members, close friends, colleagues, artists and patients. His intimate friend, Princess Marie de Bonaparte, visited nine times from Paris. Marie was one of Freud’s patients and was a very devoted colleague. She helped Freud escape from Vienna with his wife Martha, his sister in law Minna, their daughter Anna and their maid Paula. She started her own therapy with Freud in 1925 and regularly offered him antique pieces as presents, which are included in his collection. In this house, Freud also met the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and his German friend and writer Arnold Zweig. During one of these visits, Freud was introduced to Salvatore Dali, the surrealist artist. Dali drew a sketch of Freud during his visit and this drawing is exhibited on the 1st floor of the house.
The Freud museum offers a closer look at the life and interests of Sigmund Freud – by walking through the rooms, looking at his collections, viewing his library, one gains an understanding of the passions of a very great man.
A few steps further, on Fitzjohn Avenue, one can admire an imposing sculpture of Freud made by the famous Croatian artist Oscar Nemon. Nemon studied in 1925 at the Royal Academy of Arts in Brussels and after his move to England, made numerous sculptures of Winston Churchill and Elizabeth II.
In the same neighbourhood, 5 minutes from the Freud Museum on the busy Finchley Road, one can visit Karnak Books, specialising in books and publications on psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
A short tube ride from Hampstead, one can walk to the famous Crematorium in Golders Green. It is one of the oldest crematoriums in England dating from 1901, the first one to be opened in London. It is in these beautiful surroundings that Freud was cremated. Numerous personalities such as the modernist architect Erno Goldfinger, the ballerina Anna Pavlova, the actor Peter Sellers and the Jazz musician Ray Ellington have been cremated there. It is a place for meditation, surrounded by gardens and flowers. Freud’s ashes are stored in a Greek urn from his collection.
To close our Freudian trail on a lighter note, but still in the Austro Hungarian atmosphere, we stop at “Pâtisserie Louis” on Heath Street, one of the main commercial streets of Hampstead. Louis is the oldest cake shop of the neighbourhood, a real institution offering Hungarian cakes in a venue very similar to Viennese tea rooms.