Deserving of a place among twentieth century history paintings, Robert Longo's Freud Drawings (2000- 2002) depict the overbearing emptiness of Sigmund Freud's apartment moments before the Viennese physician's furniture and collections were packed and shipped to London, under Nazi threat. The apartment containing nothing more than the remnants of an extinguished time evokes the tragedy of the Anschluss of Austria to Hitler's Germany, carefully rendered in Longo's charcoal drawings.
In June 1938, Edmund Engelman was commissioned to photograph the mezzanine floor of the house on Berggasse 19 in Vienna, Austria. Containing both Freud's consultation room and apartment, Engelman secretly and courageously documented the quarters that Freud had inhabited since 1891. In the wake of the Anschluss the Jewish doctor, having received multiple visits form the Nazi Gestapo decided to seek exile in London. Engleman's documentation was to serve as map for Freud when furnishing his new apartment, but also a memory of a time now passed.
Culled from the meticulous record taken by Engelman, Longo developed a series of graphite and charcoal drawings. Of the Freud Drawings Longo states, "What I was doing in the Freud Drawings was a psychoanalysis of Freud's apartment. The aspect that really shocked me was the awareness that this man, Freud, was sitting in this apartment, dealing with the deep and dark abysses of our souls, while the Nazis were running around outside, actually doing these dark things" (R. Longo quoted in M. Hentschel and K.A. Schrder, The Freud Drawings: Robert Longo, exh. cat., Krefelder Kunstmuseen, 2003, p. 6).
Untitled (Freud's Desk by Window, 1938) is a particularly interesting study of Freud's consultation room. Longo's velvety raven-black permeates Freud's workspace-the furniture and objects within become eclipsed with darkness. A single ornately framed mirror hangs among cascade of windows, serving not only as a reflection of the ghostly room, but also as a signifier of the introspection Freud placed on himself while examining the horrors of the Holocaust and the world outside.
Untitled (Freud's Desk by Window, 1938) makes visible the absence and expulsion of the great Viennese physician, as well as the extinguished light that signified the end of enlightenment and reason. A previously hidden quality in Longo's oeuvre, the Freud Drawings reveal a tragic and emotional character in Longo's work.