As the daughter of probably the most famous portrait painter of his generation and the great-granddaughter of the father of psychoanalysis, it’s no wonder that the public and media are interested in Jane McAdam Freud’s family almost as much as they are in her sculpture.
Jane herself is equally fascinated by them, drawing much of the inspiration for her award-winning artwork from her relatives and familial relationships.
In a new exhibition at the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Golders Green, the Harrow-based artist pays tribute to her great-grandfather Sigmund Freud, in the year that marks the 75th anniversary of his death.
Dance of Disapproval – War Works includes new mesh portrait reliefs based on Sigmund’s image as well as prints made during the period when Jane was artist in residence at the Freud Museum in Hampstead. There will also be a series of prints of drawings she made of Sigmund’s collection of antiquities.
“I’m looking at my great-grandfather’s legacy,“ says the 56-year-old daughter of Lucian Freud, “on a personal level perhaps as much as a cultural one.“
Jane based her 23 artworks, a number of which she created especially for this exhibition, on private family photos.
“I have a beautiful collection,“ she says.
“It was intriguing, trying to bring to life somebody I’ve never met. I love Freud, not because he is an ancestor but because he is so thoughtful and he makes sense.“
Sigmund was an Austrian neurologist, born in 1856, who founded psychoanalysis, a movement that believes that the unconscious controls behaviour. He came to London in 1938 to flee the Nazis after the German annexation of Austria, and lived with his family in what is now the Freud Museum in Hampstead until his death, in his study in the house, in 1939. He was cremated in Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes are interred there in a Greek urn.
His theories – on things like death, psychosexual development and dreams – revolutionised the field of psychology but, after his death, his theories largely fell out of favour in academic circles.
That being said, his practice of a patient having an in-depth dialogue with a psychoanalyst and connecting the past to the present and the unconscious mind, can be found playing out in therapists’ rooms the world over.
Jane reflects this contradiction in her use of metal mesh for the sculptures in this exhibition.
“Chicken wire, with its contradictory sharp spikiness alongside its amazing malleability and transparency, is the material I most associate with Sigmund. The connotation of these physical properties could be understood as a description of how Freud was as a person and also how he was received – he was both rigid about his convictions while exercising an incredible malleable mind. In his work, he was both rejected and rejoiced – his theories were gratefully received for their versatile ability to heal by some, but also unwanted by others for their ability to make transparent what was formerly hidden.“
What did the family themselves make of Freud and his theories?
“The picture I got of him from my paternal grandparents was that they completely admired him and knew how important his works and words were,“ says Jane. “They were editing his diaries and translating from his native German. It seemed so important, as though it were a matter of life and death that I, we, everyone understood him.
“I can’t speak for everyone in my family but I have always felt incredibly proud of him and fascinated by his theories.“
Jane felt she really got to know Sigmund through studying his collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Oriental antiques during her time as artist in residence at the Freud Museum, from 2005 to 2006.
“During that 20-month period I studied Freud through his sculpture collection,“ she says, “looking at what he collected, from where, in what conditions, with what types of aesthetic considerations. I also looked at what he did with them, how and where he placed them and what he may have been trying to say via these installations.
“I got to know my ancestor as a great-grandfather who was also interested in sculpture, albeit in the collecting antiquities sense.
“I held and contemplated those same ancient works he held and contemplated while formulating his theories. It was an incredibly transforming experience!“
- Dance of Disapproval – War Works is at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, Ivy House, North End Road, Golders Green from Thursday, October 23 to Wednesday, November 12. Details: 020 8457 5000, ljcc.org.uk