Thursday , February 27 2020
Photo of Sigmund Freud
Copyright Freud Museum London (IN17)

Visiting the Freud Museum in London

The Freud Museum is tucked away in North London, just steps away from Finchley Road station. Stroll leisurely along a quaint little street of old brick houses until you reach the address of 20 Maresfield Gardens. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, lived in that residence from September 27, 1938, until his death on September 23, 1939. After that, his house was occupied until the death of his daughter Anna Freud in 1982. It became a museum after Anna’s death and opened its doors to the public in 1986.

“Guess where I am? It’s the Freud Museum,” I texted a photo of the building to a friend once I arrived.

“Freud Museum? I thought Freud lived in Vienna,” she immediately replied.

When I returned to the United States, I was surprised to find that a number of my acquaintances either didn’t know or forgot that Sigmund Freud ended up in London during World War II. It’s a good thing I could enlighten them on the subject. In 1938, Freud was shaken by the news that the Gestapo or the Nazi secret police had arrested Anna. Fortunately, the Gestapo released his daughter the same day, but Freud decided it was time to leave Vienna. Eventually, they made it safely to London.

As soon as you enter at the ground floor, proceed to the Museum Shop at the back in order to purchase your tickets. The most expensive tickets are £10 or $13, which is a great deal because it includes the special exhibition. Visitors can take a tour of “The Uncanny: A Centenary” on the upper level now through February 9, 2020.

Photo of Freud Museum Facade
Copyright Freud Museum London (HP1)

Thanks to Freud’s son Ernst and housekeeper Paula Fichtl, aspects of Freud’s work space were recreated in this London residence. After his death, Anna kept those spaces preserved, which means you can get a fabulous sense of Freud’s practice. One of the most famous pieces related to his career and practice is a particular couch in the study. You can take time to see this psychoanalytic couch and imagine the patients lying there, telling Freud whatever came to mind.

Up through February 9, Freud’s death bed or more accurately, his “invalid couch” will be on display in the study as well. The couch has usually been in storage so it’s a rare opportunity to view it as part of “The Uncanny: A Centenary” exhibition.

Moving onto Freud’s library, it contains books that came over from Vienna. I was really struck by the sheer number of books in his collection, which would make any bibliophile swoon. Some titles caught my eye immediately, namely Ilios by Heinrich Schliemann and The Science of Life by H. G. Wells, Julian S. Huxley, and G. P. Wells. I remember a medical volume called Diseases of the Nervous System. Around the room, there were also small works of art from antiquity, displaying Freud’s interest in building an art collection.

Head back to the hall to study some other neat artifacts before you go to the dining room. In addition to an 1886 wedding photograph, I really enjoyed seeing Freud’s umbrella, boots, and a pair of round rimmed brown spectacles. The dining room had a couple of quaint clocks and some lovely cabinets with a painted flowery design. There’s also artwork here by celebrated artist Lucian Freud, Sigmund’s grandson.

Photo of the study in the Freud Museum London
Copyright Freud Museum London (HP15)

On the upper level, you’ll find portraits of Freud by Ferdinand Schmutzer and Salvador Dalí. The Anna Freud Room really caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, she did have her own analytic couch, which is on view. Anna loved knitting and some of her work is on display. My favorite part of the room was her typewriter, where the museum displays her letter of advice on the training needed to be a successful psychoanalyst. To avoid an “outlook” that is “too narrow,” such professionals should read subjects “beyond the limits of the medical field, in facts that belong to sociology, religion, literature, and history,” says her typed response.

As I mentioned earlier, “The Uncanny” is the special exhibit at the Freud Museum. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of Freud’s paper. You should download The Sandman App before your visit, in order to get the full experience of the exhibit. The Sandman is an audio trail, based on E. T. A. Hoffman’s short story. It was written, directed, and designed by Elizabeth Dearnley and the voice acting is expertly done by Timothy Allsop.

The exhibit’s introduction defines the concept of “uncanny” as “a feeling that is difficult to describe. It is related to dread, horror, repulsion, and distress. But what turns something frightening into something uncanny?”

One room is a bit darker in the house to go along with the story in The Sandman App. There’s an array of objects intended to add an eerie atmosphere. While it’s a bit unsettling, it’s not terrifying. There’s a shadow box on the wall with a white mask inside. Other objects include mirrors, a child’s bed, some postcards, and a suitcase. Blue lights are placed in the room, further enhancing the spooky vibe.

The other rooms upstairs examine the idea of the uncanny in literature, art, film, and everyday life examples. These are less abstract in their mode of presentation than the darker room. That is, they are well lit rooms with exhibition panels and artifacts to illustrate Freud’s views. There’s a section of The Sandman App to read these descriptions. Look for the box on the app that says, “Learn More About the Uncanny Exhibition.”

To dive into the topic further, you can book a separate ticket to attend one of the Museum’s remaining events. On February 1, you can participate in a day-long course dedicated to “The Uncanny.”

The Freud Museum may seem so small compared to the gigantic museums of Central London, but its offerings are vast and wonderful to study up close. It is well worth taking a jaunt up to North London. The Museum is open Wednesdays to Sundays from Noon to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros earned a B.A. in Art History at the University of Virginia on a full scholarship. Pat is a frequent reviewer of all things Washington, D.C., but she's also covered events in Canada and London. Highlights in her work include articles on Simon Callow, Ian McKellen, Mark Rylance, Derek Jacobi, and Ndaba Mandela.

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