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Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori: Robbery attempt on Freud’s ashes and art

In a New Year’s Eve raid on a north London crematorium, thieves tried to steal the ashes and the ancient Greek vase which contained the ashes of esteemed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and those of his wife, nee Martha Bernays (died 1951).

The Greek urn was damaged (smashed) at the Hoop Lane Cemetery in Golders Green, north of London on December 31/January 1. Golders Green is the final resting place for such notable figures as Dracula novelist Bram Stoker, actor Peter Sellers, ballerina Anna Pavlova, former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and singer Amy Winehouse.

While it is unbelievable that anyone would attempt to steal the remains of the famous psychoanalyst, the Greek vase which held the Freuds’ ashes came from the psychoanalyst’s well known private art collection. Freud received the work of ancient Greek art as a gift from Princess Marie Bonaparte, a psychoanalyst and the great grandniece of Napoleon Bonaparte. Marie Bonaparte helped Freud and his family escape from Vienna, Austria in 1938 as the Nazis took over the city. The Greek vase was on display in Freud’s private study in Vienna and later in his consulting room and home in Hampstead, England. Sigmund Freud, known as the founder of psychoanalysis, died at age 83 in London in September of 1939. Shortly thereafter, the ancient Greek red figure vase was put on public display at Golders Green with a plinth honoring Sigmund Freud and his wife.

Painted vases of various types were made in specific shapes (amphora, hydria, krater, kylix, etc.) for specific uses in ancient Greece. A krater was used for the storage, an amphora was used to store and transport wine and food, a hydria was used to draw water, a kylix was used to drink wine or water and a lekythos was used to pour drinks at rituals or on special occasions. The Greek vase which held Freud’s ashes was in the shape of a bell krater and had two handles with prominent red figure decoration. Red-figure imagery remained the color of the red clay after firing. The background would be filled in with slip and would turn black after firing. The red figure technique was introduced circa 530 BC and replaced the earlier black figure painting style. This red figure style vase, a revered and innovative technique of Greek vase painting, depicted Dionysus, god of wine and revelry. Freud’s vase dated to circa 300 BC.

While such red figure vases from the ancient Greek civilization are on display in major museums worldwide, they only occasionally come to the market for sale. Recently, on the antiquities market, Greek vases in red figure style dating from circa 400 BC sell in a range between $10,000 to $100,000. The Greek vase from Freud’s collection would have significant historical and monetary appraised value.

Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori Verderame is the star appraiser on Discovery channel’s hit TV show, Auction Kings. Dr. Lori hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide. If you would like to host a Dr. Lori event or fundraiser, visit or call (888) 431-1010.

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