Painting Dr. Freud

Though its title suggests that the Slought Foundation’s new exhibition arrives a few weeks late for Halloween, “The Wolf Man Paints!” deals not with a lycanthropic monster, but with the (some would say equally nightmarish) history of Freudian psychoanalysis.

Sergius Pankejeff was the subject of one of Sigmund Freud’s most famous case studies, in which the “Wolf Man” nickname came from a dream of a tree inhabited by wolves. Pankejeff eventually found a dubious celebrity from the association.

He also tried his hand at art, and his paintings form the basis of the Slought show. Curator Liliane Weissberg discovered several of the paintings in the possession of Philly-area psychoanalysts and began tracking others down through archives in Vienna, London and, above all, the Freud Archives at the Library of Congress.

The artwork “continues to show some of the obsessions Freud’s case study mentions, but also shows his obsession with Freud,” Weissberg says.

The exhibition will tell the story of Pankejeff’s life, his analysis with Freud and the reception of his work by the psychoanalytic community, which he sought support from as he embraced his celebrity patient status.

“Many members of the psychoanalytic community in turn saw Pankejeff as a surviving link to Freud,” says Weissberg, “as well as a witness — and perhaps also historic artifact.”

The work

The exhibit consists of landscapes, still lifes, interiors and portraits. “Pankejeff was a self-taught artist, and the quality of work varies,” Weissberg admits. “Also, some of his work is signed ‘Wolfsmann’ and was intended to be sold as souvenirs.”