Vienna finally gets its own Freud statue, via Swiss Cottage

Oscar Nemon with Sigmund Freud in his garden in Vienna 1931. c/o Nemon's estate

Oscar Nemon with Sigmund Freud in his garden in Vienna 1931. c/o Nemon's estate - Credit: Archant

It was thanks to the Nazis that a statue to Sigmund Freud ended up in Swiss Cottage. Now a group of supporters, including the family of sculptor Oscar Nemon, are casting a copy for the Austrian capital

Nemon & Freud Statue

Nemon & Freud Statue - Credit: Archant

In 1931 Sigmund Freud reluctantly granted a sitting to a gifted young artist to make a portrait for his 75th birthday.

Despite his misgivings about being sculpted, when Croatian-born Oscar Nemon completed the bust in plaster, bronze and carved wood, the father of psychoanalysis called it “an astonishingly life-like impression”.

According to Nemon’s daughter Lady Aurelia Young, Freud liked the artist, who continued to visit his house in the Austrian capital, sculpting son Ernst and making studies for a seated statue, commissioned by the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society for Freud’s 80th birthday.

But in 1938, both Freud and his Jewish portraitist were forced to leave Nazi Europe for England. A 70cm version of Nemon’s statue was eventually unveiled at New York’s psychoanalytic society in 1947.

Decades later, when Nemon was working on a portrait of Dr Donald Winnicott, the prominent psychoanalyst spotted a Freud study in his studio and heard the story of the statue that never was.

“Winnicott said if it can’t be in Vienna let’s have it in England,” says Young. “He wrote to fellow psychoanalysts to get people to subscribe to pay for it.”

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Winnicott felt it was ‘a debt of honour” owed by psychoanalysts to the creator of their life work, and thanks to his efforts a larger than life-size bronze was unveiled in 1970 outside Swiss Cottage library, moving 18 years later to a spot near the Tavistock Clinic and Freud’s final home in Maresfield Gardens.

Now a group of Nemon’s relatives and psychoanalysts are casting a copy for the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Medicine.

It will be unveiled next June, on the 80th anniversary of Freud’s departure from Austria.

Young, who is writing a book on her father’s “extraordinary life” says that until his death in 1985, Nemon had always hoped to see his statue in Vienna, and the family had kept a plaster cast of it.

“My father was always trying to find a way of getting the statue to Vienna. It was his greatest wish to see it where it was originally meant to be.”

Young says her father moved to Vienna as a teenager and was soon sculpting prominent singers, musicians and analysts.

“He was a poor Jewish boy from the Balkans who was a brilliantly talented teenager. At 17 he went to Vienna to study sculpture and made quite a mark making portraits.”

He got the Freud commission through a disciple Paul Federn.

“My father found Freud very austere and unforthcoming but Freud was his great hero and he felt Freud was a great man. Freud liked him andhe was often invited to the home between 1931 and 1936 for more sittings.”

Although Nemon’s sisters and mother perished in the Holocaust, he was invited to England by a friend and became a noted sculptor, making busts of The Queen, who gave him a studio in St James’ Palace and Winston Churchill - which stands at the entrance to the House of Commons chamber. It become a talisman for MPs making their maiden speech.

“It shows Churchill walking through the rubble of the Blitz to remind future generations how we stood bravely against the enemy,” says Young, who is married to former MP now Baron George Young.

“They touch the toe for luck, when it turned gold my father used to come with a pot of paint to paint it over.”

Vienna’s Medical University, where Freud trained as a doctor, is paying half the 100,000 Euro cost of the casting and transportation. A group including the International Psychoanalytic Association, European Psychoanalytic Federation and British Psychoanalytic Society are raising the rest.

Young remembers the artist as “a very loving father devoted to his three children”. He had lost his family, so ours was very important to him. I had a happy childhood although there was no money. My father never asked for any but was always hoping the next big thing would be round the corner.”

British Psychoanalytic Society fellow Helen Taylor Robinson, who has helped the new statue project says: “Eighty years to the exact day when Freud left Vienna, he is due to return, in Nemon’s sculpted form, to stand under the trees on the campus of his old university.”

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