Sigmund Freud couch to be conserved as Jeremy Millar documents psychotherapy tool

By Ben Miller | 11 September 2013

When Madame Benvenisti, a Viennese patient of Sigmund Freud, gave the forefather of psychoanalysis his famous couch in 1891, she did so because she thought the bourgeois furnishing would inspire confidence in his practice from those who sat on it. But more than a century on, the Biedermeier-style design has seen better days.

A photo of a woman repairing an ancient couch within a museum
Poppy Singer analyses Freud's couch© Freud Museum London
Starting this weekend, conservator Poppy Singer will have the task of repairing the torn, worn material covering the frame of the couch, from which a spring and stuffing protrudes. Sumptuous outer layers of rugs and cushions will no longer have to hide 12 decades of damage.

“To be ‘on the couch’ has become universal shorthand for psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic treatment,” says Dawn Kemp, the Acting Director of London’s Freud Museum, home to the couch.

“If any one object acts as a symbol for the work and ideas of Sigmund Freud it is the couch on which his patients lay as they revealed dreams and memories that were to inform Freud’s theories of the unconscious.”

Moving from the study to the dining room during the process, Singer’s aim is to colour-match new fabric on eroded sections, supporting the new fillings to protect them against future damage.

Artist Jeremy Millar will film the action as part of a plan to extensively document the process, including chances for the public to watch the work in progress and enjoy a glimpse beneath the famous Qashqa'i rug usually covering the couch.

The conservation is expected to take up to two weeks.

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