Object of the Month: May

The Psyche of Berggasse 19

This piece of art nouveau furniture, just under 1.80 metres tall, came into the collection of the Sigmund Freud Foundation by way of a purchase in 2017. The dressing table with a mirror in the middle, also known in German as a Psyche, used to belong to the Freud family. The table, painted light grey, was made in the first quarter of the 20th century and, as of 1921, stood in Anna Freud’s bedroom along with some other “white furniture”. We can assume that this is the “upright mirror” that Sigmund Freud mentions in Beyond the Pleasure Principle in connection with the “Gone” game that his grandson Ernstl once played.

In London, the dressing table also stood in Minna’s room and later came into the possession of the housekeeper Paula Fichtl. In 1982, before returning to Austria, she gave this piece of furniture to an English antique dealer, who sold it to a customer in Frankfurt. In this roundabout way, the dressing table returned to its accustomed place as the owner wanted to see it in its original setting and offered it to the Museum. The purchase was made possible thanks to a generous donation of the Vienna Medical Chamber.

Free-standing, swivelling mirrors, the archetype of the dressing table that would later include drawers and shelves, first came into vogue in the late 18th century and were extremely fashionable particularly in the Empire and during the Restoration. Only after a final wave of popularity that lasted into the 1950s did the dressing table begin to go out of fashion, with mirrored doors on cupboards becoming more common and furniture having to serve multiple purposes for want of space. The parallel between Psyche’s elixir of beauty from the legend and the piece of furniture devoted to female beauty suggests itself. The “Dictionnaire de l’Ameublement et la Décoration” from the end of the 19th century explains the etymology with the large mirror in which one can see one’s whole body. The fact is that the term Psyche describing dressing tables of this kind is known to have been in use long before Freud’s exploration of the human psyche.

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