Sigmund Freud's Quiet Return to Vienna

Freud's 1938 departure grabbed world press. Last week's return went unremarked.

Posted May 29, 2018

When a frail-looking Sigmund Freud fled Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938 with his wife, daughter Anna, and personal physician, his rail journey through Paris to London made international news. The U.S. Ambassador to France boarded the train when it stopped in Paris. Ernest Jones, president of the International Psychoanalytic Association, greeted the family at Victoria Station, and a London Star editorial proclaimed, “London welcomes Freud. He does us an honor by coming to live among us." 

Courtesy MedUni Vienna
Shrink-wrapped Freud
Source: Courtesy MedUni Vienna

Eighty years later, the return of a far more robust and relaxed-looking Freud from England took place under the radar — and under layers of tight protective plastic.

For his journey back to Vienna, Freud was — dare we say it? — shrink-wrapped. 

But all shall be revealed on June 4, when the larger-than-life bronze statue by Oscar Nemon is unveiled at the Medical University of Vienna. 

A Painstaking Rebirth

Although it's gone largely unheralded thus far, a great deal of effort went into the return journey.

First, there was Freud's bronze rebirth — one that, fittingly, had a nine-month gestation period — at Pangolin Editions, a renowned foundry in Gloucestershire. Starting on September 17, 2017, the statue was molded using the lost wax process. It was then cast in segments and welded together; after that, a patina was applied. (To get a feel for just how labor-intensive the process is, look at Pangolin's YouTube video of the first stage.)

At least the craftspeople at Pangolin didn't have to start from scratch: The foundry used Nemon's original resin, created in the late 1960s in the sculptor's studio near Oxford (open to visits by appointment). Commissioned with funds raised by a committee chaired by Donald Winnicott, president of the British Psychoanalytic Society, and completed in 1971, the first larger-than-life bronze now sits in Hampstead, in North London — not far from Freud's London home, now the Freud Museum.  

Nemon had always intended that the statue be placed in Vienna, however.

Courtesy of the Oscar Nemon Estate
Freud in Oscar Nemon's studio, near Oxford, 1960s
Source: Courtesy of the Oscar Nemon Estate

The sculptor met Freud in 1931, first creating three busts of the initially reluctant subject. He continued to visit Freud every time he passed through Vienna, and a maquette of the seated professor, hands on hips, knees akimbo, was slated to be presented to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute in 1936, according to several contemporaneous newspaper accounts. But no maquette materialized until 1947, when a miniature reproduction of Freud was unveiled at the New York Psychoanalytical Institute.

It had been sent over from London on the Queen Mary at a cost of $36.82.

A Return Journey Under Wraps

It cost considerably more to have the statue moved from London to Vienna last week: £7,800, to be precise. Of course, this version of Freud is much larger than the one in New York, and required the care of two specialist technicians: One who flew to Vienna to prepare the site, another who drove the truck and operated the lifting mechanism. The trip from England took two days, with stops at secure facilities to prevent any Freud heists.

It is impossible to predict what the headlines in the Austrian newspapers will be next week, but the symposium associated with the unveiling will include Freud's great grandson, Nemon's daughter, the Rector of the Medical University of Vienna, and several heads of psychoanalytic institutes, including Vienna's.

Also notable: On his return journey, Freud was permitted to travel through Germany.

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