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Life-size x-ray of Freud’s coat reveals his life as migrant refugee

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Published date 22 February 2017

A life-size x-ray of Sigmund Freud’s coat that he purchased and wore when he was forced to leave Vienna and seek refuge in London, features in a new exhibition Temporarily Accessioned: Freud’s Coat Revisited (23 February – 7 May 2017) on Freud’s life as a migrant.

The exhibition marking thirty years since both the University of the Arts London (UAL) and the Freud Museum, London, came into existence in 1986, is the work by Paul Coldwell, Artist and Professor in Fine Art at UAL’s Chelsea College of Arts.

Following Freud’s daughter Anna’s arrest by the Gestapo, previous burnings of Freud’s books by the Nazis and a 30 operation battle with cancer of the jaw, Freud was forced to migrate from Vienna with his wife and daughter Anna. Freud chose London as his refuge in 1938 stating that: “I came to England where I hope to end my life in freedom”. He died of cancer on 23 September 1939.

Newspaper cutting of Freud en route to London, 1938

Coldwell spent the last two years working with the Freud Museum in both London and Vienna for his new exhibition Temporarily Accessioned: Freud’s Coat Revisited hosted onsite at the Freud Museum, London. The exhibition contains 15 artworks – together the works address the themes of absence and presence, of objects and loss, and examines what it means to have to flee one’s home and become a migrant.

Paul Coldwell, Artist and Professor in Fine Art at UAL Chelsea College of Arts, said: “I wanted to give visitors the opportunity to build up a picture of Freud to appreciate what it must have been like to be in his shoes, going from world renowned psychologist to refugee. I wanted to show how objects anchor our lives in spite of any displacement or upheaval that we might encounter. It is particularly relevant now, in context of the current migration issues. Using Freud, we show how even the world’s prestigious thinkers can be at risk of forced migration.”

The Hope – a short ten minute film by director Susan Steinberg charts Paul Coldwell’s work in the lead up to the exhibition including the journey the coat made to the National Gallery for x-ray. The journey of the coat and the x-ray is also captured in Paul Coldwell’s book Freud’s Coat (originally published in 1996) in collaboration with The National Gallery, London and the Freud Museum. The film and book will both be on display as part of the exhibition at the Freud Museum.

Using art and technology to see beyond the surface of Freud’s coat & plight of forced migration

The x-ray of the coat Freud wore when he migrated to London was taken at the National Gallery. Paul Coldwell created a life-sized image of the coat, piecing together the x-rays to reveal the story underneath the surface – a psychoanalysis of his coat. In the x-ray you can see Anna Freud’s plastic rain hat and travel tickets in the pockets (Anna Freud often wore the coat after her father died).

A Ghostly Return – 3D scanning of 60 antiquities on Freud’s desk

Along with other possessions, Freud managed to rescue 60 of his antiquities just weeks before the outbreak of World War Two. Paul Coldwell uses innovative 3D scanning techniques to recreate the 60 antiquities and objects that Freud looked at everyday on his desk in Vienna while writing his famous works on psychoanalysis.

Clip from the film ‘The Hope’ by Susan Steinberg showing Freud’s Desk at the Freud Museum

Paul Coldwell, Artist and Professor in Fine Art at UAL Chelsea College of Arts, said: “I worked with UAL’s London College of Fashion to use non-contact 3D scanning technology to replicate the objects in a white semi-translucent nylon to present a ‘ghost’ of Freud’s life in Vienna. I wanted to capture what these objects meant to Freud in the context of being exiled from his home in Vienna, having to start from scratch in another country – but also highlight that he was lucky; he was welcomed in England and had influential friends unlike many migrants.”

100 refugee postcards sent by balloon from Vienna to London

Also included in the exhibition is a contemporary look at migration relating back to Freud’s migrant journey. Paul Coldwell worked with teenage refugees in Vienna to release postcards of photographs of their precious objects which Paul related to Freud’s objects. Releasing 100 balloons with the postcards attached and asking for them if found to be returned to Paul’s address in London, this project highlights the risk involved in the journey of migration and how personal precious objects and identity can be lost along the way. Of the 100 balloons released, only two were posted back to Paul Coldwell and these form another artwork in the exhibition.

Paul Coldwell with refugees in Vienna

Paul Coldwell would like to acknowledge the generous support of Arts Council England.

Temporarily Accessioned: Freud’s Coat Revisited

23 February – 7 May 2017

Freud Museum

20 Maresfield Gardens, London NW3 5SX

Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 12-5pm

Admission charges: adults £7.00, senior citizens £5.00, concessions £4.00, under 12s free

Underground: Finchley Road

London Overground: Finchley Road and Frognal