Dreaming on a Magic Carpet

What Might Happen on Freud’s Original Couch Rug Was Open to Interpretation...

On The Town | Dardis McNamee | November 2006

Freud‘s Rug and Couch on display at the Rahimi and Rahimi Carpet Gallery in Vienna‘s 1st District (Photo: M.T.M. Childs)

The announcement appeared one Thursday in Der Standard – only a small picture at the bottom of an inside page. But there it was, The Couch, draped with the original Oriental rug so familiar from old photographs of the founder of psychoanalysis in his study.

Since 1938, when the ailing Sigmund Freud was forced to flee Vienna to escape the Nazis, couch and carpet have been at the family’s home-in-exile in London, now a museum, hidden away in a residential district of Mayfair. Until now.

I peered closely at the photograph: The carpet just fit the chaise longue, the three large octagonal patterns on which so many troubled souls had lain, perfectly cushioning the head, back and thighs of a reclining body. I could feel my pulse quickening. The octagons were a shimmering, marine blue, now that I saw it in colour, set dramatically against a richly patterned background of glowing mandarin and azure, coral rose and crème brulé...

Needed to calm down.

I read the caption: "… on display as of Saturday for a look (and a trial sitting)" at the Rahimi and Rahimi Carpet Gallery on Spiegelgasse in the First District.

This I was not going to miss.

So as Saturday dawned brilliantly sunny, I headed out. It was another glorious day in this astonishing fall season that no one dares get used to. I showed up at Rahimi’s just after it opened at 10:00 and followed the path of the Oriental runner that carpeted the carriageway (nothing too good for the horses) into the Palais Szecheny. A finely tailored sleeve waved me upstairs, down a hall, through a ballroom gallery and at last, into the sanctum sanctorum.

Carpets were everywhere, to the left and to the right, before and behind, large and small, all luscious, and 10 in all on loan from the Freud Museum in London. There was Anna Freud’s carpet, a pale ice-blue, deeply faded from the sun; there was a stunning "Kuba" antique runner from Azerbaijan from the living room, and the enormous, 533x350cm Heriz that had covered the entire floor in Freud’s study.

A middle-aged Viennese woman with well coiffed head of Henna followed me in.

"I have always been fascinated with oriental rungs, ever since I was a child," she confided, "especially the wine-red ones. To me they were the epitome of good taste and class." Grossbürgerlich. I nodded. Connotations surely not lost on the good doctor.

The couch carpet (277 x 165cm) was a Gaschgal from Iran, we learned from Farhad Mirfattahi, a member of the Rahimi family and the expert on call.

"They were made by very simple nomads," he told us. Right, I thought, marveling at the intricacy of the designs of flowers and animals, rituals of the hunt and ceremonies of the hearth. He smiled. "They had their kingdom elsewhere."

Freud had acquired the rug in 1893 from his brother-in-law, Moritz, who was a dealer; it would have been very expensive even in Freud’s day, probably beyond the means of a normal academic.

But with this Gaschgal, Freud had transformed his very workman-like chaise longue into a place of dreams, a device for fortune telling of a sort, for 1001 tales of the unconscious worthy of the Arabian Nights.

But now my curiosity was getting the better of me. I showed Miffattahi the clipping from the Standard. Was it really possible to have a Sitzprobe? He looked embarrassed. "It must have been some journalist’s idea of a joke," he said apologetically. I sighed, and thanked him for his time.

It had really seemed too good to be true, I realized, walking around the room and noting down the details of the displays. And when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Other visitors came in and left again. A photographer arrived and took some pictures. I took more notes. Just then, there was a voice at my shoulder. It was Mirfattahi.

"There’s no one here, if you would like to try the couch…"

My spirits soared. I stepped over the red cord, turned and slowly lowered myself onto the lush blue and red weave of color where the knotted patterns of the human mind had been explored, the raveled sleeves of care unwound. Might I lie down? He nodded. I slid off my shoes, and arranged myself along the three octagons, one for my legs, one for my back, one for my head.

The pile was softer than I expected; I closed my eyes and watched the patterns of the carpet shimmering and shifting across the backs of my eyelids, and let my mind float.

"The true knotting is organic," Freud had written, "where a dream’s many stands of thought come together… Here you find yourself woven into a fabric of thought, in which, as in a masterpiece, each move sets a thousand threads in motion, the shuttle rushing back and forth, the threads flowing unseen to a thousand new connections."

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