Freud’s Chinese Scholar

Significantly Freud – Chinese Scholar

This painting a small Chinese jade figurine is one of my twelve smaller gilded paintings which together form Significantly Freud: Icons for a Jewish Atheist, representing my favourite twelve artefacts from the private collection of Sigmund Freud.

Freud’s tiny Qing Dynasty white jade statue of a Chinese scholar took pride of place on his desk. It was surrounded by a beautifully carved wooden screen. This statue was one of only two artefacts Freud had smuggled out of Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938.

Jade was the sacred gem of China, symbolising the virtues of justice, wisdom, courage and protection. It was also treasured more than gold. Freud admired the delicate carving and meditative quality of the Scholar.


Die Weisheit (Wisdom)

The painted red script, Die Weisheit, translates as “Wisdom”. For me this signifies Freud’s continual search for meaning in all he did, his admiration for deep knowledge and human progress.

Freud’s Chinese scholar is a small jade figurine in the middle of an exquisitely carved wooden table screen. The screen itself is 19.5 x 12.6 x 2.5 cm so the jade figure is even tinier. It was made in the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century.

One of my original sketches for this painting.

“Freud arranged his most exquisite Chinese object on his desk, directly behind Athena. Table Screen is inset with the figure of a scholar, carved in white jade, and surrounded by delicate, curving, wooden leaves and branches. A meditative object for the Chinese scholar’s desk, the natural forms were meant to encourage the mind to roam in an ideal landscape …

The scholar’s studio was a place of study and contemplation, where he surrounded himself with specially created ‘treasures’ – brushes, inkstones, water droppers, netsukes and figurines that embodied the shared wisdom, traditions and values of the Chinese literati. Objects of beauty as well as status symbols, the treasures projected ‘allusive and symbolic meanings’ that ‘encouraged and inspired [the scholar] in his work.” (Janine Burke, Sigmund Freud’s Collection, University of Sydney, March 2008)

Freuds Rug detail Bev Dunbar The Gilded Image

The colour of the frame and desktop in this painting was inspired by the dusky blue colour in one of Freud’s tribal rugs in his consulting room. This rug hung on the wall behind where the patients sat or lay on the couch to be psychanalysed. The patient’s eyes could not help wandering to the colours and designs in this rug.