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Freud’s legacy: Why psychoanalysis calls Maida Vale, St John’s Wood and Hampstead home

PUBLISHED: 15:29 15 August 2018 | UPDATED: 17:42 15 August 2018

Oscar Nemon with Sigmund Freud in his garden in Vienna 1931

Oscar Nemon with Sigmund Freud in his garden in Vienna 1931

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The Sigmund Freud statue that sits proudly on the corner of Belsize Lane and Fitzjohn’s Avenue in Hampstead is well-known.

Melanie Klein. Picture: Hans A. Thorner, CC by 4.0Melanie Klein. Picture: Hans A. Thorner, CC by 4.0

Created from a bust made by Oscar Nemon, the statue, which has recently been replicated at the Medical University of Vienna, shows the pioneer of pyschoanalysis seated in bronze, peering down at Hampstead’s passers-by.

Freud’s likeness is a vivid reminder of the deep roots pyschoanalysis has in our area. The man himself spent the final years of his life in Belsize, while the Institute of Psychoanalysis stands to this day on Shirland Road in Maida Vale.

The sculptor Oscar Nemon was famous in his own right, too. His portraits of powerful political figures draw most attention – the likes of Winston Churchill and the Queen famously sat for the refugee artist.

But his work also chronicled the burgeoning psychoanalytical community in Hampstead and the surrounding area.

Nemon & Freud StatueNemon & Freud Statue

A Nemon bust of Dr Donald Winnicott stands in the Institute of Psychoanalysis, while the Croat sculptor also captured Melanie Klein and Ernest Jones, both of whom became totemic figures in the fledgling discipline.

Lady Aurelia Young, Oscar Nemon’s daughter, explained: “My father sculpted many of Freud’s disciples, too. There was a bust of Melanie Klein which I have never seen, but he also did Ernest Jones and Dr Donald Winnicott, whose bust sits at the Institute.”

Melanie Klein, who was invited to England in the 1920s by Jones, ended up living in St John’s Wood, and then Hampstead. However, she was less keen on her sculpted likeness than her mentor Freud was.

Aurelia explained: “A film was made of my father sculpting Klein. However, I discovered relatively recently that she did not like the bust he made her.

Ernest Jones. Picture: Wellcome Library, London, CC BY 4.0Ernest Jones. Picture: Wellcome Library, London, CC BY 4.0

“Amusingly, my father had actually said he found her rather self-centred.”

Looking back, it’s easy to wonder why these important figures were so conveniently located for Oscar Nemon to sculpt – and in effect, why psycho-analysis became so entrenched in north London.

The answer is rooted in a combination of chance and the work Ernest Jones – the founder and first president of the British Psychoanalytical Association – undertook to help colleagues in Nazi-threatened Europe move to the UK.

However, Ewan O’Neill, archivist at the Institute of Psychoanalysis, explained that the simplest reason is the most relevant one.

Sigmund Freud sits for sculptor Oscar Nemon. Picture: The family of Oscar NemonSigmund Freud sits for sculptor Oscar Nemon. Picture: The family of Oscar Nemon

He told the Ham&High: “The short answer is that once Freud came, others followed.

“He attracted disciples to him, and then the greatest thinking was happening here.

“The ‘Controversial Discussions’ between those who followed Freud’s work such as his daughter Anna and those who followed Melanie Klein, or those who went their own way entirely – they were taking place in the British Psychoanalytical Society.

“Much of British psychoanalysis is founded on the work of Ernest Jones. And he helped arrange for those threatened by the Nazis to move across the channel in the run-up to war.

“His connection was essentially he had met Freud far earlier, and struck up a hugely important personal and professional relationship.”

In addition to his own work and his establishment of the psychoanalytical societies, Ernest Jones was also the pre-eminent cheerleader for Freudian analysis in Britain, at least until Freud himself moved into the Maresfield Gardens home where he lived out the final months of his life.

Ewan said: “Dr Winnicott lived further west, in Belgravia, but he was, later, hugely influential.

“He came to prominence just as the old battles between Kleinians, Freudians and Independents were dying down.”

Things came full circle in 1971 when the Freud statue in Belsize Park was first unveiled – although it initially stood behind the Swiss Cottage Library before being moved so more people would see it, and recognise the role this area played in the birth and growth of psychoanalysis.

The statue was paid for by a subscription organised by Dr Winnicott, whose own Oscar Nemon bust sits at the Institute of Psychoanalysis today, marking the ongoing importance of psychoanalysis – and Nemon – to Maida Vale, Hampstead and beyond.

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