Freud is remembered at MahJ

André Brouillet, A clinical lesson at Salpêtrière, March 1887

MahJ, Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme was founded twenty years ago in the beautiful Hotel de Saint Aignan in the Marais. Besides its permanent collection it is devoted to exhibitions with a Jewish theme in the most varied way. This show “Freud, du regard à l’écoute” curated by Jean Clair and Philippe Comar with Laura Bossi, gives us a full spectrum of Freud as an art collector and a 19 th century scientist. The artists he inspired  are represented and his passion for Moïses concludes the show. 

A reconstitution of Freud’s office in Vienna by Charles Mathon with his famous anthropomorphic chair and his collection of Egyptian statues

There are three major loans in this show: the first and most striking one is a painting of French psychiatrist Jean Martin Charcot using hypnosis at Hôpital de la Salpêtrière to cure hysteria. Freud came to Paris and studied with Charcot. He always kept a reproduction of this painting in his office in Vienna.

The second is “The origin of the world” by Gustave Courbet, a rarely lent painting previously owned by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan which is now at Musée d’Orsay. The third is a gigantic 19 th century mould reproduction of Michelangelo’s Moïses which represents the return to Judaism operated by Freud at the end of his life when he wrote “Moises and monotheism” in 1939.

Michelangelo, Moïses, 1836 plaster mould by Antonio Banchelli, Ecole Nationale supérieure des Beaux Arts

When you enter the first room, the theme is set: wooden and copper scientific instruments and the large painting by André Brouillet,  of Charcot treating a woman through hypnosis at the Salpêtrière, a hospital specialized in hysteria where six thousand women were kept at the time. We are at the heart of 19 th century medicine when Freud was a neurologist and a biologist. At the time he is an atheist and he only believes in the role of science.

“Born in 1856, he is closer to Maupassant than to Proust, a true 19 th century man a generation before Schiele and Klimt”, says Jean Clair who stressed the importance of Freud not being a 20 th century man. “He fell ill with a cancer of the jaw in 1923 and slowed down his activities”.

Moritz Coschell, Cora in Hypnose, 1899, Vienna Wien Museum

When Marie Bonaparte, Princess George of Greece and Denmark, a fervent disciple of Freud whom she consulted for her frigidity, managed to negotiate with the Nazis his departure to London in 1938, she also paid for him to take along his collections, some of which were smuggled through the Greek diplomatic pouch. There are 3 000 archeological pieces which can be seen at the Freud museum in Hampstead, London. A few are shown here. “Freud was always rejected by Viennese society”, reminds us Jean Clair, and it is only in 1989 that he was finally officially honored in Austria.

Emile Signal, Craziness of the Lamermoor fiancée, 1850, Tours Museum

In the 1920’s, Freud had a great influence on the surrealists through André Breton,who was a doctor and had been posted in the military neuropsychiatric hospital of Saint Dizier. He used Freud’s writings for his own patients. Jean Clair has introduced a few contemporary art pieces, like Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”, 1917, Max Ernst, “La préparation de la colle d’os”, 1921, René Magritte “Rape”,  Mark Rothko’s “Untitled”, 1964 and Hans Hollein, “Divan and armchair”, 1984-85.

There are many sculptures, drawings and photographs illustrating mental diseases and even some comic books for children. At the end of the show, you can sit and watch family movies shot in Austria in the late thirties, representing the children and Marie Bonaparte,  and commented by Anna Freud, his daughter,  one of the rare survivors of the camps.

The last room is dedicated to Moïses and Freud’s return to the Jewish faith.

I was very interested by this show which places the psychoanalyst in an artistic context but regret the size of the rooms which are so small that you bump into visitors and have a fractured vision of the artwork. But it is the first exhibition dedicated to Freud in France and you should not miss it.

MahJ, From watching to listening” until February 10, 2019.

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