Freud Museum London visit to Figueres, Catalonia, Spain

Dawn Ades, Curator of The Metamorphosis of Narcissus: Freud & Dalí exhibition at the Freud Museum, London travelled to Figueres, Catalonia, Spain in November 2017 with an ICOM UK – HWB Travel Grant.  This is the report from Dawn’s visit.

In October 2018 the Freud Museum in London is putting on an exhibition to mark the 80th anniversary of Salvador Dalí’s visit to Freud, which had been arranged by the writer Stefan Zweig.  As curator of the exhibition, I have been preparing the loan list.

Teatro Museo Dali new aquisition

Teatro Museo Dali new acquisition

The Freud Museum has already been fortunate in securing the loan of Tate’s famous painting Metamorphosis of Narcissus, (1937), which Dalí took with him in his visit.  A number of preparatory sketches for the painting, together with other relevant material (letters, photographs and manuscripts), is held by the Teatro Museo Dalí: Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí (FGSD).  The purpose of my visit was to view their holdings and to discuss the possibility of loans to the Freud Museum for the exhibition.

The FGSD would like their archive to be better known and they will be fully engaged in the planning process of this exhibition.  There has always been a synergy between these two institutions which we are keen to nurture and develop further through this project.


The dates of my visit were arranged in advance so that I could meet with the Director of the Dalí Museums, Montse Aguer, and with the curator of the collections Carme Ruiz.  I was able to discuss the Freud Museum exhibition project with both.  The loan of paintings from the FGSD would have been a problem, but drawings and letters should be possible (depending on conservation reports).  These I was able to see and discuss at length with Carme in the study room at the FGSD.

Dali manuscript for Narcissus

Dali manuscript for Narcissus

I studied the drawings, to determine which would be most appropriate for the exhibition.  Most of them are bound in a special volume, which also contains a copy of the book Metamorphosis of Narcissus that Dalí wrote to accompany the painting.  There is also a second volume, containing both French and English versions of the book, the handwritten manuscript of the text, and an additional drawing.  Other relevant materials in the FGSD archives included an unpublished letter from Zweig to Dalí of 1937, in which he informs Dalí that Freud is too ill to receive a visit.  It is likely this was in response to a request from Dalí to visit Freud in Vienna just at the moment he started work on the painting where he was staying in Austria.  It was only the following year that Dalí finally succeeded in meeting Freud, by now in exile in London.  This points to Dalí’s determination to consult Freud on the subject of Narcissism.

It was crucial to see the drawings in the flesh, as reproduction does not do them justice, and also the nature of the way they are bound into the volumes is important.  The purpose of this visit was research for the exhibition provisionally entitled Dalí, Freud and the Metamorphosis of Narcissus. It was very successful in finding exciting material and starting the process of securing loans.

Personal contact with the Director and curators is also essential in discussing loans, and to form a collaborative partnership with the archive for sharing information and objects between the two institutions   which Teatro Museo Dali is keen to pursue.

The Dalí Theatre Museum, where the FGSD is housed, was created by Dalí himself, and it is where he died, leaving much of the rich collection of paintings, letters and manuscripts.  Finding the records of his fascination with Freud was very satisfying, and underlined the intimate and personal nature of their contact, which I hope the exhibition will convey.

The Director of the Dali museums, Montse Aguer, and curator Carme Ruiz in the Foundation archive

The Director of the Dali museums, Montse Aguer, and curator Carme Ruiz in the Foundation archive

The next steps are to prepare the loan request lists in conjunction with the staff at the Freud Museum, and to send them to the Foundation.  We will also start to explore themes in the exhibition which will link with the pedagogical and research interests of the Freud archives at the Museum, in particular in the context of Freud’s writings on Narcissism.  We will also look at ways of including more examples of the iconography associated with the myth. There will also be practical issues to do with display, insurance, and transport of works of art.

The on-going communication and support of teams at both the Freud Museum London and Teatro Museo Dalí will be key in nurturing this cross-institution relationship.  The visit has consolidated ambitions for the inclusion of important preliminary drawings for the Metamorphosis of Narcissus, and also led to the discovery of new, additional exciting material for the exhibition at Freud Museum London.

For me, personally, confirmed my belief in the necessity of seeing works one wants to borrow in the flesh, rather than relying on reproductions.

“The grant enabling Dawn Ades to visit the Teatro Museo Dalí has been enormously helpful.  This visit made it possible for Dawn, the Exhibition Curator, to carry out valuable in depth research for our major exhibition on Freud and Dalí, agree possible loans, and discuss collaboration over this exhibition and in the future with the Museum’s staff.  Dalí, Freud and the Metamorphosis of Narcissus is one of the most important exhibitions that the Freud Museum has ever planned, and this international research visit has been crucial to the planning of the exhibition, and we hope its future success.”

Carol Siegel, Director Freud Museum London