Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Review: The Freud Museum

Written by Joe Saxon

Sigmund Freud is cited by many as being the father of psychoanalysis: the dialogue between patients and professionals that still underpins the science behind understanding ourselves today. His work led to a shift in the way that we think about mental health, his methods of psychoanalysis and counselling not only providing an alternative to drug therapy, but also allowing us to gain a greater understanding of how our minds work.

It was in Freud's North London home, following his escape from Nazi-occupied Austria during the 1930s, that much of this work took place. In the years that have followed, this home has been opened up to the public in the form of a museum, offering a captivatingly intimate look at his life.

Nothing much has changed at 20 Maresfield Gardens in the 76 years since Freud’s death. The only thing separating the museum from its residential neighbours is its discreet signpost, which appears no bigger than the neighbour’s cat that waits beneath it, to greet visitors. The same can be said for the modest entranceway, where the overflowing visitor’s book, resting amongst the family photos, acts as the only reminder that this isn't just any old suburban home.

After purchasing your ticket from what was once the conservatory, but is now ‘the shop’, you make your way into the former library, which like the museum’s exterior, seems to have gone unchanged in decades. The walls remain lined with bookcases, packed to the brim with the works of Goethe and Shakespeare, as well as rare antiquities, which in themselves are enough to keep any lover of art or history enthralled for hours.

Towards the centre of the room, arranged amongst Freud’s old armchairs, lie fascinating accounts from the first patients to experience the now famous treatment methods. “There was always a feeling of sacred peace and quiet here. The rooms themselves must have been a surprise to any patient, for they in no way reminded one of a doctors office…”

Adjoined to the library stands the focal point of the museum, Freud’s former study. The first thing you notice upon entering the room is the analytic couch, which sat at the centre of much of his groundbreaking work. Today, its presence acts as a poignant reminder of his influence, it’s style being synonymous with patient therapy around the world.

At the rear of the study sit a pair of French doors, overlooking the home’s rose garden. It is a view that would eventually be Freud’s last, this being the place he chose to die when the pain of his cancer grew too great. It is difficult to stand amongst his belongings, in a room that influenced his life so greatly, and fail to develop a connection that other museums simply cannot provide.

The dining room allows you to gain a better understanding of Freud the man, rather than Freud the scientist. The walls are lined with paintings of places he enjoyed, such as the alpine region where he would often spend his holidays, and towards the rear of the room, his family tree appears draped over an antique chest of draws. The family’s dining table, now pushed up against a wall to allow visitors to move more freely, holds further information regarding the Freud family, with fact files on his wife, children, and even his dogs, all making for interesting reading.

The former bedroom of Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund, and eventual pioneer in child psychology, looks to provide insight into her own work. Pictures drawn by her patients line the walls, offering visitors an enthralling look at the way in which we have evolved to understand the minds of children, while also shining a light on the work of a woman often overshadowed by her father.

The final stop is a video room, in which visitors are invited to watch rare footage of Freud’s life in London. It is here you are able to observe the pioneer first hand, not only at work, but also interacting with his family and friends in the very home you have just explored. 

Despite the Freud Museum’s small size, it manages to provide something for everyone, from its abundance of paintings and antiquities, to its exhibits dedicated to psychological theories that have shaped the lives of so many. Upon leaving 20 Maresfield Gardens, it is hard to ignore the far-reaching impact of the work once carried out there. The museum’s informative, yet personal, portrayal of Freud being enough to leave, even the least scientific of minds, wanting to know more.

Opening times:
Wednesday – Sunday
12:00 – 17:00

Ticket Prices:
Adults: £7.00
Senior Citizens: £5.00
Concessions: £4.00
Children under 12: Free

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