Freud Museum reopens with exhibition on pandemic

Freud's daughter Sophie who died in the flu pandemic

Freud's daughter Sophie who died in the flu pandemic while pregnant with her third child - Credit: The Freud Museum

In the cold January of 1920, Sigmund Freud's "dear, lovely" daughter Sophie contracted the dreaded virus that had ravaged the world for almost two years.

With transport restrictions in place, the father of psychoanalysis couldn't travel from Vienna to Hamburg to be at her side.

As he wrote to colleague Oskar Pfister: "We were not able to travel at once, as we had intended, after the first alarming news; there was no train, not even for an emergency. The undisguised brutality of our time is weighing heavily upon us."

Within four days the 26-year-old and her unborn child had died - two of an estimated 50 million to perish in the flu pandemic

Freud wrote to his mother Amalia: "She is the first of our children we have to outlive...I hope you will take it calmly; tragedy after all has to be accepted. But to mourn this splendid, vital girl who was so happy with her husband and children is of course permissible."

Letters written by Sigmund Freud after his daughter's death

Letters written by Sigmund Freud after his daughter's death - Credit: The Freud Museum

Shortly afterwards Freud wrote Beyond The Pleasure Principle which includes one of his more controversial theories - the notion of a death drive or instinct towards self destruction, rooted in trauma, and embedded in our personalities.

The story is told in a new exhibition at Hampstead's Freud Museum, alongside filmed interviews with contemporary analysts on how the Coronavirus pandemic had affected their practice - from Zoom consultations to patients' pandemic dreams.

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Other items on display include a British Red Cross uniform, feeding cup and vaporiser for flu patients, and letters from Freud about the beloved daughter he called 'Sunday's child'.

Images from the exhibition Freud and Pandemic

Images from the exhibition Freud and Pandemic - Credit: The Freud Museum

When it reopens on May 19, visitors to Freud's former home in Maresfield Gardens must book in advance for timed entry, arriving through the garden gate for the one hour, one-way tour which they can follow with a downloadable audio guide.

Alongside the pandemic exhibition, they can see Freud's wedding ring, glasses, and the coat he wore when he arrived in England in 1938 fleeing Nazi occupation. His famous analyst's couch and priceless collection of antique artefacts, furniture and wall hangings from his Viennese apartment is also on show, alongside the day bed that he died on in 1939. In his final days it was positioned downstairs so Freud could see the garden.

Items on display in Freud and Pandemic

Items on display in Freud and Pandemic - Credit: The Freud Museum

Museum director Carol Seigel said further exhibitions are planned for 2021 including one on American psychoanalyst Muriel Gardiner who helped smuggle hundreds of Jews out of Nazi-controlled Austria and was instrumental in turning Freud's last home into a museum.

They are also plans to install disabled access for the upper floor and improved visitor facilities including a toilet and cloakroom.

Paintings by Dr Julia Lockheart

Freud wrote Beyond The Pleasure Principle after his daughter Sophie's death. In related artworks Dr Julia Lockheart responds to patients' dreams - Credit: The Freud Museum

"The last year has been difficult and we are really excited to be reopening," she said. "For the last few months we have been trying to lift our heads above the parapet and not just plan for the next few weeks but a bit further ahead, to make some changes and improvements and think about what the next couple of years is likely to look like."

The Museum received two recovery grants from the Government, additional grants from trusts, and generated donations by putting its courses and talks online - reaching hundreds worldwide.

Seigel added: "It was really successful, we had much bigger online audiences and hope to build on that to widen our reach and be more accessible. We are trying to be optimistic, but half of our visitors come from overseas and that market isn't going to come back for a while. So we are keen to encourage local visitors who have perhaps always meant to come and see our museum. It will feel safe and quiet, more like a private visit."