Jane McAdam Freud Emerges from Shadows of Her Famous Antecedents

News Story: April 4, 2018

Jane McAdam Freud
Sacred Heart University recently welcomed sculptor Jane McAdam Freud—a descendant of noteworthy people who has become noteworthy in her own right—as a speaker in its Human Journey Colloquia Series.

McAdam Freud, 60, is the great-granddaughter of famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and daughter of figurative portraitist Lucian Freud (1922-2011). Her talk at the Frank and Marisa Martire Business & Communications Center, “Paddle Your Own Canoe: Negotiating the Shadows,” offered an intimate look at the Freud family and its influence on her evolution to success.

Shadows have played a key role in McAdam Freud’s life. She describes them as “light interrupted” and has both dodged and engaged them for much of her time on earth. Fearing McAdam Freud would not be recognized on her own merit, her mother, Katherine Margaret McAdam, constantly advised her to “paddle your own canoe.” In fact, to avoid the famous family connection, McAdam Freud went by just McAdam for the first half of her career.

“She had such an influence on me and my work, and told me to do my own thing, on my terms. To do something, make it your business and people will mind their own business,” said Jane about her mother. “I thought art would save me and keep me from judgement.”

At 21, she sold her first artwork to a museum. Success came quickly and, in 1991, at 31, she was invited to receive the 300-year-old honor, Freedom of the City of London. To receive the award, she had to present evidence of her family’s connection to England. That forced her to accept her shadowed side, which coincided with a productive period in her career. “I studied art in the right places at the right time and embraced and incorporated shadows in my work,” she shared.

Her fascination with sculpture started in nursery school, in the “sandpit,” where she used water, sand and chocolate powder to create. She didn’t know she was sculpting, but she enjoyed the feel of it. She also was impressed by the feel of fabrics her mother used as a fashion designer. “Now sculpture completely absorbs me. It’s my religion. I feel that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing,” McAdam Freud told her audience.

The artist wants her work to speak and channels her feelings through her pieces. In some—like one that comprises crushed, found objects—she relays crushing feeling of her own shadows. Other works, like those made with steel net, symbolically stand out from the shadows and can be viewed from different angles. “I started to treat being in the shadows as a virtue, after taking early successes for granted,” she observed.

McAdam Freud related that her parents and great-grandfather loved sculpture, which may have influenced her choice of media. Sigmund Freud had antique sculptures on his mantel and desk, symbolizing how he saw the world. McAdam Freud said she and Sigmund share a parallel sensibility to that regard.

She described herself as a rebellious teen, in part because her mother set few rules and partly due to an inner battle for independence. Ironically, Sigmund was a rebellious boy who once urinated in his parents’ bedroom, according to his descendant. They thought he wouldn’t amount to much, she said, but he obviously did. Similarly, when McAdam Freud learned she had been accepted to art school, she symbolically jumped on her mother’s back.

Apart from McAdam Freud’s desire to escape her family’s shadow, her drive to succeed also related to solidarity with her fellow women. “I felt we weren’t taken notice of. It mattered less to society if we failed or not, so the pressure was off,” she said.

McAdam Freud noted parallels between Lucian and Sigmund and shared what it was like growing up around her father. “Both of them analyzed people on a couch. Lucian flourished under Sigmund. He was absent a lot, but his presence lingered,” she remarked. 

To some degree, her work is a kind of tribute to these two men. She created her sculpture, “Earthstone and Shadow,” immediately after Lucian’s passing. It shows a bust of Lucian next to a broken shadow. Another work, titled “Us,” is photographic in nature and integrates her own face and her father’s in different ways.

McAdam Freud also paid tribute to her formal and conservative grandmother, Lucie. “She gave me strong reins through her clear instruction. I loved being at her home. She showed me what a good relationship looks like. And she introduced me to Sigmund’s theories, through translating his work. She chose my schools and I relished her attention,” she reflected.

Jane closed with the hope that she had shown how she had “escaped the blocking mechanism of having famous antecedents.”